Saturday, March 12, 2016

AMERICAN IDIOT • New Line Theatre

The fury that simmers within generations of young adults is nothing new, but New Line’s current production of Green Day’s American Idiot, adapted from the band’s 2004 concept album of the same name, is painted in sharp-edged, pop-punk strokes that strike a familiar chord, particularly now. With the country in the midst of a divisive political season, Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer’s rock opera about coming of age in a post 9/11 world of uncertainty, taps into an angry restlessness that’s as palpable today as it’s ever been.

The show’s opening sets the tone with an eruption of its title number, “American Idiot.” Three disillusioned twenty-somethings, Johnny (Evan Fornachon), Tunny (Frederick Rice) and Will (Brendan Ochs), are sick of the monotony of suburbia, and plan to head off to New York City, answering a call in search of... something. Anything. As long as it’s away from where they are now.

Tunny (Frederick Rice), Will (Brendan Ochs),
and Johnny (Evan Fornachon).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Will ends up having to stay behind with his newly pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Larissa White), Tunny enlists in the army to fight in Iraq, with all of its horrors, and Johnny, the only one who makes it to New York, finds himself falling into a chasm of drug addiction, provided by his second self, a charismatic dealer named St. Jimmy (Chris Kernan) -- “The needle in the vein of the establishment.” St. Jimmy tempts Johnny further and further down a dark path, and proves a rival to Johnny’s affection – a girl he becomes obsessed with called Whatsername (Sarah Porter).

St. Jimmy (Chris Kernan).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Jukebox musicals rarely work all that well, but the three different paths of Johnny, Tunny and Will provide enough variety to massage some plot in and out of Green Day’s mostly sung through, tuneful musical. With a couple of extra songs included from their 21st Century Breakdown album and unreleased songs, the music includes a nice mix of driving rock, thoughtful melodies, soaring harmonies and potent lyrics, that are strongly executed by New Line’s muscular ensemble.

Ochs and Rice are superb as Will and Tunny, while Fornachon leads the cast with a commanding presence as Johnny. Kernan plays St. Jimmy with confident energy, and White turns in great work as Will's exasperated girlfriend Heather. Porter is powerful as Whatsername, frustrated with Johnny’s refusal to take responsibility for his increasingly erratic behavior, and Sicily Mathenia is impressive as the Extraordinary Girl, a nurse whom Tunny falls in love with while recovering from the wounds of war. Speaking of that, costuming the Extraordinary Girl in Statue of Liberty garb during a scene involving a hallucination of Tunny’s, a creative alteration from the original production, was a clever move, adding depth to the meaning of the song. And kudos to Kevin Corpuz also as a pop-culture phenom turned soldier in “Favorite Son.”

Whatsername (Sarah Porter) and Johnny (Evan Fornachon).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy’s staging and choreography ensure high intensity, though the playing space is shallow and wide, obscuring some of the action on the far left and right sides of the stage, so sometimes you have to keep an eye out for who’s singing when. The band (yay strings!), under the direction of Sue Goldford, handles the score wonderfully, with scorching guitars courtesy of D. Mike Bauer and Aaron Doerr. “21 Guns,”
“Letterbomb,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Favorite Son” and “Extraordinary Girl” were standouts for the band and cast.

Will (Brendan Ochs) and Heather (Larissa White).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
This fully executed musical is magnetic, whether you’re a Green Day fan or not. With doses of surprising introspection, a dedicated cast and heart-pumping music, you’ll leave the theatre with a memorable high. It’s playing until the 26th.


Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy 
Extraordinary Girl (Sicily Mathenia) and Tunny (Frederick Rice).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
through March 26 | tickets: $10 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Johnny: Evan Fornachon
Will: Brendan Ochs
Tunny: Frederick Rice
St. Jimmy: Chris Kernan
Whatsername: Sarah Porter
Heather: Larissa White
Extraordinary Girl: Sicily Mathenia
Favorite Son: Kevin Corpuz
Rock & Roll Boyfriend: Clayton Humburg
Ensemble: Kevin Corpuz, Cameisha Cotton, Clayton Humburg, Jeremy Hyatt, Omega Jones, Sean Michael, Ariel Saul, Tanya Sapp and Gabe Taylor

Ensemble of New Line Theatre's AMERICAN IDIOT.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Ben Rosemann
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master: Kimi Short
Dance Captain: Cameisha Cotton
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Conductor/Piano: Sue Goldford
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Guitar: Aaron Doerr
Bass: Andrew Gurney
Violin: Twinda Murry
Cello: Jessica Nations
Percussion: Clancy Newell

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