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Green Day’s Whiny `American Idiot' Rocks on Broadway: Review

John Gallagher Jr.
John Gallagher Jr. in the Broadway musical, "American Idiot" in New York. The show, staged by Michael Mayer and performed at the Longacre Theatre, is based on the Green Day album of the same name. Photographer: Paul Kolnik/Hartman Group via Bloomberg

Fans of Green Day may well find bliss in “American Idiot,” the latest rock concert to pose as a Broadway show. There are six of them, if you’re counting.

With scorching arrangements by Tom Kitt (who just won a Pulitzer for his “Next to Normal” score), the songs sneer and whine just as a rock-n-roll concert ought to. Still, 90 minutes of barbaric yawp does not an opera, punk or otherwise, make.

The story concerns three male friends who journey from youthful suburban boredom to adult misery. Like the platinum- selling album of the same name, the show offers a raucous dose of grungy, solipsistic slackerism. When it runs out of ideas, it throws in a pregnant girlfriend to put the ultimate kibosh on a poor slob’s dreams.

In the title song, the kids howl, “Don’t want to be an American idiot/One nation controlled by the media.” They’re surrounded by a now-familiar wall of TV screens and a stage crammed with thrift-store furniture, rumpled sheets and junk.

Of course they’re American idiots to the core. One will disappear into suburban anomie, another into heroin and the third into Iraq. When they finally reconnect, they’re older and -- here’s the twist, I guess -- none the wiser.

Puppy Dog

“Remember when dad said that I would never amount to anything?” the addict, Johnny (John Gallagher Jr., a puppy dog of an actor), writes to his mother. “Well, I one-up’d him. I amount to nothing. I knew you’d be proud.”

As a concept album, “American Idiot” allowed us to make our own connections among the songs. A Broadway musical demands more than director Michael Mayer, working with Green Day lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong, has come up with. Johnny and his mates -- testy Will (Michael Esper) and hunky Tunny (Stark Sands) -- are ciphers. So is Mary Faber as Will’s pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Johnny’s sex toy and Christina Sajous as a nurse. (How peripheral are the female characters? The last two are called Whatsername and The Extraordinary Girl.)

Motley Costumes

There’s more personality in Christine Jones’s inventive set (a scaffold becomes a bus), highlighted by Kevin Adams’s piercing lighting and Andrea Lauer’s motley costumes.

Mayer did a fine job with Duncan Sheik’s rock adaptation of “Spring Awakening,” another coming-of-age show. This time, he and Kitt have slapped a hip veneer on vacant material, a thumping rock party for the oblivious.

At the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:
****       Do Not Miss
***        Excellent
**         Good
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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