I carried delicious anticipation and a measure of trepidation to the opening of “American Idiot” at Lakewood Playhouse — anticipation because it is such a highly praised musical, and trepidation because what little I had heard of Green Day’s music seemed ear splitting with garbled lyrics.
I was pleasantly surprised that the music was not too loud, and that I could hear every word of the lyrics. (There are free earplugs available in the lobby if you are concerned. Just ask.) And while there is a lot of angry punk music, there are also a lot of tender songs of love and loss.
With music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, “American Idiot” is based on a Green Day album. The story is told almost exclusively through the music, with the only spoken words being from the dairy entries and letters Johnny (Mark Alford) writes to his mother.
“American Idiot” tells the stories of three young men determined to escape the boredom of their small-town lives.
Johnny goes to New York to become a musician, has a sad relationship with “Whatsername” (Dani Hobbs) and becomes addicted to drugs, which he gets from St. Jimmy (Shannon Burch).
Tunny (Tony Williams) goes with him but is soon disillusioned and joins the military and is shipped to Iraq, where he is severely wounded in battle and is nursed by “The Extraordinary Girl” (Ashley Roy, who is also the show’s choreographer). They fall in love.
The third member of the trio, Will (Cooper Harris-Turner), stays home to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Kiana Norman-Slack).
The show is a post 9/11 rock opera is the tradition of “Rent” and The Who’s “Tommy” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” A large ensemble cast — backed by a strong, eight-piece band conducted by Deborah Lynn Armstrong — performs more than 30 punk rock songs.
The choreography is frantic and athletic. It is intricately designed to look like a bunch of young people moving to their own inner beat in a near train wreck of walking, running and dancing.
The energy and the anger, the extremes of emotion and the enthusiastic way the cast members throw themselves into their roles is amazing.
Although it is an exciting and talented ensemble cast, Alford’s Johnny is clearly the main character.
I’ve seen Alford similarly throw himself wholeheartedly into many roles, such as Johnny Rotten in Harlequin Productions’ “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Twelfth Night,” but never before with such extreme emotion. (His drug overdose scene is almost unbearable.)
Harris-Turner nicely underplays Will as quiet and depressed. Also outstanding are Williams as the sweet and tragic Tunny, Norman-Slack as the young mother and Burch as the strange and mesmerizing drug dealer.
The costumes by Diane Runkel, from authentic ’90s punk clothing to the military uniforms, are spot on. Kate Wilson’s lighting adds drama, and James Venturini’s set is suitably grungy.
Overall, this is a wonderful achievement by director John Munn and his cast and crew, sweeping audiences into the lives and the all-too-much humanity of a city full of teens and young adults, and doing it all with nothing but music and dance.
Warning: There is strong adult language and graphic depiction of drug use.
Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m., through Jan. 18.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.
Tickets: $25-$30, pay what you can Jan. 11 and 18.
Information: 253-588-0042; www.lakewoodplayhouse.org
Warning: Contains adult language, situations; some drug use and their after effects depicted.