Title: American Idiot
Artist: Original Broadway Cast, featuring Green Day
Label: Reprise Records
Format: Double CD
Case: Standard Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color booklet, with a synopsis, a note from director Michael Mayer, complete lyrics, credits and full color production photos.
Of the Show, I Wrote: "The staging and concept is heavy-handed – the opening sound bite montage, the upside down American flags on the screens, the entire 7-11 sequence, and the copious, dangerous and very distracting amounts of trash that litters the floor. I knew we would be in trouble when the first thing you notice is one of the “rebels” hanging upside down watching TV while giving the screen the finger. Anarchy or an excuse for a head rush? I’m betting the idea is the former, but the truth is the latter. And that is much of what ails American Idiot. It wants so bad to be an earnest, important piece, but it can be very hard to take seriously, especially when the watch-cry of the show is 'take a fucking shower!' But just when I was ready to hate the whole thing, [Michael] Mayer (and [Steven] Hoggett, too) throws me a curve or two, and creates some beautiful and stunning stage images. First, there is the mind-blowing road trip sequence to “Holiday” the catchiest tune in the show. After that, pretty much all of the up-tempo stuff goes by in a blur, mostly because of the sameness of the staging, but it also points up the other incredible moments – the quiet, introspective numbers: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” where the three guys sing this anthem from different places, but all together with only their voices and the guitars they play; the equally quiet “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and the powerful full company ballad, “21 Guns,” amazing for its meaning, staging and sound. Finally, there is the entire Army hospital sequence, including “Extraordinary Girl” which has a burka-clad angel float in from above and transform into an “I Dream of Jeannie” fantasy for the figuratively and literally flying morphened Tunny. It is those moments that show us everything American Idiot could have been.
Without all of the sensory overload of the live show and staging, the songs take on a life of their own. They are clear, the selection of who sings what lines or whole songs becomes more apparent (though worthy of more in depth study as I listen to the album over and over). I am very relieved that, in fact, despite not being able to understand the words the whole time in the theatre, that I did get all of the plot. I still think the lack of book and development is an issue for the show as a musical. And just a little more exposition might have clarified the intention of the character of St. Jimmy, another area where my opinion has not changed from my review of the show.
My very good friend Mike, whose expertise lies more in the music than the presentation, tells me that while he was already a fan of Green Day, this version of American Idiot creates, for him, a whole new appreciation for just how good they are. His reaction to the stage show was vastly different, centered mostly on the music and the arrangements of the music and vocals. He, like me, is completely engrossed by the work Tom Kitt did on the score, particularly the addition of strings, and the use of vocals to supplement the rock only arrangements. He is the one who brought the Irish pub/rally song quality of "Holiday" to my attention, and the "Eleanor Rigby"-esque strings in "Last of the American Girls/She's a Rebel." (Thanks, Mike, for your input and explanatons!)
I'm pretty sure the cast recording has negated a great deal of my original review. The last time I was this excited by a cast recording was when they released next to normal, and before that, Spring Awakening. And so I am thrilled that within a few weeks, I'll be returning to the St. James to re-visit American Idiot. I'll share my thoughts then, and look forward to being completely swept away by Jesus of Suburbia and his pals, Will and Tunny.
(Photos of the Broadway company by Paul Kolnik)
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