Friday, April 30, 2010

Broadway Theater Review: American Idiot by Green Day

A Rocking Voyage with a Redeeming Message
By Lauren Yarger
Partly hit rock album and partly this generation’s answer to Hair, American Idiot bursts onto Broadway with a new musical featuring the music of the band Green Day (with lyrics by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong) and the story of the search for meaning and purpose as told on their 2004 multi-platinum album by the same name.

Directed by Michael Mayer (also the director of Spring Awakening, another break-through type of rock musical) and starring John Gallagher, Jr., the show offers 90-minutes of loud rock and a surprisingly redeeming message.

Mayer and Armstrong co-wrote the book. Gallagher is Johnny, a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia.
"I'm the son of rage and love. The Jesus of Suburbia, from the bible of none of the above, on a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin..." he sings.

He is a disillusioned youth opposed to the war in Iraq with an unhappy home life where his stepfather tells him he’ll never amount to anything. Johnny doesn’t want to be just another “American Idiot” who is powerless to do anything but accept the status quo, so he and friend Tunny (the delightful Stark Sands) go to the city to find something more while their other friend, Will (Michael Esper) stays home when his girlfriend, Heather (Mary Faber) discovers she is pregnant.

Tunny joins the military while Johnny finds sex and love with Whatsername (an engaging Rebecca Naomi Jones) and drugs with St, Jimmy (a vocally sharp Tony Vincent), who is a sort of anti-Christ to Johnny’s Jesus. Meanwhile, Will turns to drugs and alcohol too.

While an injured Tunny recovers in a hospital, he fantasizes about The Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous) who hovers above him in a burka. She discards the garment to reveal an I-Dream-of-Jeannie-like harem outfit and the two fly off (in some neat aerial theatrics). Meanwhile, Johnny hits bottom, loses Whatsername and believes St. Jimmy’s lies that everyone hates him and will leave him.

“I amounted to nothing,” he says, realizing he has fulfilled his stepfather’s prediction. Turns out life in the city isn’t much more than a "Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” one of Green Day’s most popular songs and one of a few ballads that break up and balance the harder rock sound of the show.

The story takes place through the album’s songs on Christine Jones’ set that houses the sharp musicians (conducted by Music Director Carmel Dean in Punk garb, costumes by Andrea Lauer), multiple video screens ( Darrel Maloney, design) fire-escape-looking stairways and flashing strobe lights (Kevin Adams, design) that make the stage look like a music video come to life. Other set pieces are flown, rolled or lifted in as needed. Brian Ronan designs the super sound which is very loud, but well balanced.

All of the actors give strong performances and the music, though considered in the Punk genre, actually is quite good and memorable (orchestrations and arrangements are by Tom Kitt). Despite the rather heavy and mature nature of the experience, the message that sex and drugs aren’t the answer is redeeming -- and that comes through loud and clear too.

The choreography by Steven Hoggett is crisp, pertinent, exciting and perfectly executed by the large cast.

The show runs at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Discounted tickets for friends of Masterwork Productions are available here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language throughout
• Drug use depicted throughout
• US flag displayed upside down
• Sexually suggestive move
• Sexual activity
• Scantily clad actors

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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