American Idiot, the Green Day punk musical that premiered here in the Bay Area, opened this week on Broadway. I have been reading the reviews with interest, since I attended the closing night performance at the Berkeley Rep. I’m afraid it was wasted on me.
Some background here is necessary. Way back in 2001, I chanced upon the filmed-for-DVD Jesus Christ Superstar with Jerome Pradon and Glenn Carter. I really liked the looks and voice of Tony Vincent, the young performer playing Simon Zealot. I bought some of his self-produced CDs after checking out his website. A few years later I was in London and had the opportunity to see Tony Vincent play the lead in the Queen musical We Will Rock You. The show had plenty of energy and a talented cast, but when a musical is built around a random collection of songs, the plot is usually the weak link. This show was no exception. Vincent sounded great singing Bohemian Rhapsody and other classic Queen tunes, while his acting relied rather too heavily on the frequent wiping of his nose to broadcast his character’s awkwardness. I missed his bleached blonde hair from Superstar, since his look for this musical was now goth black. At the stage door, Vincent was warm and friendly with his fans, signing autographs and posing for photos.
I have followed Vincent’s career since then, linked as a facebook friend along with thousands of others of fans. I was really excited when I found out he’d be performing nearby in American Idiot, as drug dealing St. Jimmy. I bought a ticket and sent Vincent a facebook message. telling him the matinee I was attending. I said I hoped to see him at the stage door. Okay, I was obnoxious and insisted upon it. His answer was brief and to the point: “i don’t come out between matinees.” I changed my ticket to the very last evening performance, thinking that the energy on closing night would be extra special.
Closing weekend, Vincent posted on facebook that he had a terrible case of the flu. I took myself across the bay with a sinking feeling. At the Berkeley Rep, I asked the box office manager if Vincent was performing. The news was bad. His understudy had stepped in for the entire weekend. The show was sold out and eager young fans were lined up for return tickets. I told the box office manager that I only wanted to see the show for Vincent, and I was considering selling my ticket. She did her job, telling me that all the performers in the show were wonderful and that I wouldn’t regret seeing it. I was in a foul mood at that point, but I used my ticket anyway.
So, American Idiot didn’t thrill me, but I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind. I expect that colored my perception. Mostly it made me feel old. The audience was all aflutter before the curtain went up because “Billy Joe” or “Billy Joel” was in the audience. I couldn’t quite hear what everyone was whispering. Okay, I know Billy Joe is the Green Day singer guy, but Billy Joel was also in town that weekend. It was confusing. I was in the cheaper seats, so I couldn’t see. The thing that made me feel decrepit was that I didn’t actually care which one it was.
As I predicted, closing night was charged with special energy. Everybody sang and danced their hearts out. I was surprised how much I liked the songs, having never once listened to a Green Day album. The performers were talented and attractive. The staging was frantic. The story was practically non-existent, and this is where it lost me. It was little more than a concert, and I need an engaging story to give me a reason to care about the characters.
American Idiot moved to Broadway where it’s getting plenty of attention. Tony Vincent recovered from the flu (with at least three rounds of antibiotics) to join the New York cast. The reviews this week have been extremely mixed, but ticket sales seem encouraging and audiences enthusiastic. I wish them all well. I won’t be buying another ticket, though.