Green Day musical is music for the masses

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere. 

Gotham legiters already had their eye on “American Idiot,” the Green Day musical that opened last week at Berkeley Repertory Theater. Its Broadway momentum now seems inevitable in the wake of mostly upbeat reviews.

The “American Idiot” tuner — or is it a punk opera? — is based on the 2004 album of the same name by the Grammy-winning Green Day, with tunes from the record supplemented by material pulled from the band’s latest, “21st Century Breakdown.” Book is credited to Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, who also helms.

Mayer is one of several alums of the Tony-nabbing team behind “Spring Awakening,” including designers Christine Jones and Kevin Adams, lead thesp John Gallagher Jr. and producers Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman, who are involved with “American Idiot.”

Local press tended to think the story a little wan, but most found much to enjoy in the developing musical, and there’s seemingly little in the reviews to discourage producers from bringing the show in to Gotham as early as the spring.

Here’s what Bay Area critics said:

 n In the San Francisco Chronicle, the little cartoon-theatergoer is sitting up and clapping happily — in the paper’s icon-based version of a five-star ranking system, that’s good (but not quite as positive as when he’s jumping out of his seat). Chronicle critic Robert Hurwitt wrote the show “packs plenty of excitement and entertainment into a remarkably theatrical rock concert,” even if the narrative seems vague. “It isn’t much of a story, more like concepts imposed upon songs proclaiming nihilistic disillusion,” he wrote. “But the songs are vivid, dynamic and in some cases pleasantly melodic. And the packaging is so wildly entertaining, it’s almost a complete show by itself.”

  • In the San Francisco Examiner, Leslie Katz noted the musical’s robust ability to attract a desirable under-30 crowd. “The show has a lot going for it,” she wrote, but added “the story — a loosely defined coming-of-age tale about an angry suburban kid Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.), his friends, his demons, his lover — remains thin.” Still, she wrote, “‘American Idiot’ does have its moving moments, particularly with its biggest hits and most hummable songs.”

 n Karen D’Souza in the San Jose Mercury News bestowed some of the highest praise the production received. Relishing the orchestrations by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), she didn’t mind the ambiguities of the storyline: “As compelling as it is abstract, the musical channels the grungy spirit of punk while also plucking at the heartstrings.” She’s all in favor of a Gotham transfer, opining that “if there’s any justice in the world, it will head east shortly.”

 n Dissent came from music critic Jim Harrington of the Oakland Tribune (in a review published in the Mercury News), who scoffed at the show’s version of the tunes by calling them “more ‘Rent’ than rock.” As orchestrated and performed in “Idiot,” the music, he wrote, is “just big, loud, bland and intended for mass consumption.” He later zinged, “In other words, it should do big business on Broadway.”

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