Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot focuses on Johnny, Will and Tunny, three frustrated good friends who take different paths on their road to self-discovery. Johnny chooses drugs as his escape from suburbia, while Tunny finds himself drawn to the military and Will discovers that his future has already been chosen for him.
The musical is based on Green Day's 2004 punk rock album of the same name, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The band wrote the songs for that album as a reaction to the aftermath of September 11th and the angst-filled uncertainty of the world at a time when a politically focused America was hijacked by 24/7 news reports from the media. That very little has changed in the last 20 years and there is still a lot of angst, that America is even more politically polarized, and the media feeds into it, is depicted in a video montage that opens up this production with a well-edited barrage of media clips from the last few years.
For the musical, Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics fit perfectly into the mouths of the main characters to depict the inner thoughts and expressive outward feelings of these young individuals as they talk about their boring daily lives and the disillusionment, anger, and confusion the world has created. While the songs in the show are exceptional, there are some issues with Armstrong and Michael Meyer's book, which only uses a few narrative comments from Johnny to attempt to link the songs together into a cohesive plot. At an intermission-less 90 minutes, a few more dialogue moments help to better flesh out the characters and their situations without adding much added time to the show. Also, the depiction of the character of St. Jimmy, who is the catalyst for many of Johnny's bad decisions and his devilish alter ego, may be lost on some people who think that St. Jimmy is an actual drug dealer in the plot.
Director Pete Bish keeps the show moving at a fast clip with an energetic cast who deliver performances full of passion and power. Jack Walton is outstanding as the slacker Johnny. Walton's ability to effectively depict Johnny's vulnerability, his constant need to make rash decisions that are bad, and his sense of lost dreams is quite effective. His singing voice sounds great and he accompanies himself on the guitar for several songs with accomplished playing. It's an all-around wonderful performance of this lost individual that many will identify with. As Tunny, Connor Klein does a good job depicting how the military draws Tunny away from his friends and how the character struggles with the consequences of war. With vacant eyes that resemble a perpetually glazed-over appearance and an almost emotionless delivery, Jason Irr is terrific as the stoner Will. Irr also plays the guitar several times and his playing and his singing are excellent.
Hayden Skaggs is wonderful as St. Jimmy, Johnny's seductive and controlling alter ego, with a strong singing voice, devilish and perpetual wink in his eye, and complete control of the character. Tawny Audi is wonderful as Whatsername, the woman Johnny is drawn to. Audi's singing voice shines and she does good work showing the vulnerability underneath Whatsername's hardened, drug-influenced exterior. DJ Coon and Swae Miller-Estabrook are both lovely, with strong singing voices, as Will's girlfriend Heather and Extraordinary Girl, a young woman who helps Tunny, respectively. The rest of the large cast deliver energetic singing and dancing throughout.
Bish achieves authentic performances that are void of any falsehood or pretension, which is fantastic, considering how young the cast are. While Dale Nakagawa's choreography is rough in spots, it really works for a show that focuses on the uncertainty and confusion of young adults, and his excellent lighting is used continually throughout to punctuate certain lyrics, phrases, or moments in the show, as well as to realistically depict a battlefield strewn with ongoing explosions. Peter Bish and Chase Budden's static, multi-level set and movable pieces of furniture work quite well to provide fluid scene changes. Maureen Watson's costumes, as well as Skaggs' expressive tattoos for St. Jimmy, create perfect millennial-influenced designs. Bish's sound design delivers crisp and clear lyrics. The music direction by Lorenzo Slavin and the sound by the six-piece band are quite good.
When it was released in 2004, Green Day's bestselling album clearly struck a chord in how it spoke directly to the disenfranchised and disillusioned youth of America who found themselves facing an uncertain future at that time. With just as much confusion and angst now and the future just as uncertain, if not even more unclear than it was 20 years ago, seeing how Johnny, Tunny, and Will handle being forced into adulthood still strongly resonates today.
American Idiot runs through August 6, 2023, at Scottsdale Community Players, with performances at Greasepaint Youth Theatre, 7020 E. 2nd Street, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-949-7529 or visit www.greasepaint.org.
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer