Green Day goes to the theater

What happened offstage at Wednesday’s opening of “American Idiot” was just as exciting as what happened onstage: Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s sold-out auditorium was packed with people well under 30 — clearly, a good thing.

That attendance, and the fact that the show’s run already has been extended, isn’t entirely surprising, given Green Day’s international popularity as well as its hometown appeal.

But will the world-premiere rock opera based on the East Bay band’s monster 2004 album be the savior of live theater for generations to come? Not necessarily.

The show has lots going for it: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool’s quintessentially 21st century score of melodic rock songs, for one major thing.

Skillfully arranged for an eight-piece band, including a standout string section, they sound terrific, sung by a crack team of youthful, almost too good-looking Broadway professionals under the direction of Michael Mayer.

Mayer, who had a hit with “Spring Awakening,” returns to a familiar theme of teen angst in “Idiot,” which ultimately, undeniably captures the mood of alienated youth throughout the show, thanks to the sheer power of the songs.

Yet the story — a loosely defined coming-of-age tale about an angry suburban kid Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.), his friends, his demons, his lover — remains thin.

Surface characters, an undeveloped plot, MTV-inspired choreography and costumes that look too much like costumes (or like they were supplied by fashion experts at Levi’s, a show sponsor) at times lend a lack of authenticity and keep viewers at a distance. 

It’s a quibble, though; early rock operas like “Tommy” or “Jesus Christ Superstar” were more spectacles than profoundly emotional experiences, weren’t they?

And “American Idiot” does have its moving moments, particularly with its biggest hits and the most hummable songs, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” – great tunes that accurately describe the travails of contemporary kids.

A couple of tunes not on the original album were added, to little effect, although Green Day diehards may feel differently.

The set’s dominant element is its back wall, which stretches up to a high ceiling and is appropriately dotted with flat video screens — surely a sign of the new century.

Some theatrical tricks, particularly the Disney-like flying (a la Peter Pan) in “Extraordinary Girl” add a bit of a classic musical feel to the show.

While the place “American Idiot” will play in the annals of stage history remains to be seen, it nonetheless is making a positive mark on the local scene, opening the world of theater to people who’ve not experienced its power before.

THEATER REVIEW

American Idiot

Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 1

Tickets: $16 to $95

Contact: (510) 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org
 

artsentertainment

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

Income from Shared Spaces will provide financial resources to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency, according to its director, Jeffrey Tumlin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA director says Shared Spaces serves transit agency’s financial interest

$10.6 million price tag for program raises concerns among transit agency’s board members

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

Most Read