Photos by CALEB FORSYTHE AND JASON LOPEZ/Shenandoah University
“American Idiot” cast holds a dress rehearsal on Thursday in anticipation of their show this weekend and Oct. 2-4 at Ohrstrom-Byrant Theatre at Shenandoah University.
Green Day’s “American Idiot,” the latest student production from Shenandoah Conservatory, is a raw, sexual, daring, mildly disturbing and wonderfully ambitious production.
“American Idiot,” which shares its name with the 2004 Green Day album that makes up the majority of the show’s score, is a Tony Award winning musical.
However, the show leans closer to a rock opera than a musical, having minimal actual dialogue and relying heavily on the acting of the cast and the music to tell the story.
It’s a show about disenfranchised suburban youths who have no idea where they belong in a world that they’re about to be cast headlong into.
Following a musician’s dream, three men escape from their stagnant lifestyle by taking their guitars to the city. Life, however, quickly catches up with them, throwing them each onto separate, sometimes tragic, paths.
It’s a show that has more than a little sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Having had the opportunity to see the final dress rehearsal before the show opened Friday, I have to say I was impressed.
Being a long-time Green Day fan, I walked in fairly certain I knew what to expect out of the show. I
But it’s safe to say that knowing the music and experiencing the show are two very different animals.
The SU production implemented a minimalist stage, using a single background that looked like a warehouse and rolling different furniture to the forefront to show the current setting. This gave the show a fast pace that fit well with the rock, as each scene flowed almost seamlessly into the next.
In the back corner of the stage was the band dressed in jeans and T-shirts, which only added to the atmosphere.
They rocked. There’s not too much else to say on their behalf. They had a solid performance that would have done Green Day proud.
And the cast didn’t fall short either.
It’s a tough thing to bring the punk spirit to the stage, especially when planning choreography: It’s easy to imagine it being awkward to watch 10 people dancing in unison to music that sees more head banging than ballroom dance.
Despite this, the style they went with wasn’t a tough sell. You could tell it was choreographed, which is expected, but most of the time the various members of the cast had enough variation in their moves to give it a sense of controlled spontaneity, keeping the energy of a good rock concert sans the mosh pits.
Of course, the really impressive part is that despite the styled chaos on stage, the chorus was great. It had the sound and the timing.
The lead roles, however, carried the bulk of the vocals. What surprised me most about the music was how the role of “lead” singer, as it would be if it were just the band performing in a regular concert, is constantly shifting from one character to the next. What was a song became a conversation or often an argument.
To make that work, SU pulled some real talent from their theater department.
Johnny, the character the story most closely follows, is played by Mike Bamford. He has a number of opportunities to shine and that he does.
Despite one or two shaky vocal moments in other songs, Bamford really showed what he could do during his solo performance of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” an iconic song of Green Day’s later career. Better yet, he takes up an acoustic guitar and joins in with the band; the first of a number of times the cast does this.
Connor Alexander plays Tunny, another of the three main characters. More than anyone, he had the sound. This doesn’t mean he was the best singer, but he had the rock voice, sounding more than any of the rest of the cast like Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong.
Jon Graham, who played the third character the story follows, was another solid vocalist. What really impressed me about him, however, was his acting. A lot of his part was comparatively less active and relied more heavily on him looking as miserable as the maudlin lyrics he sings.
There are a lot of other characters worth mentioning. The three female leads, played by Lara Treacy, Tess Marshall and Lauren Khalfayan, were all talented and performed well in their roles. The first time Marshall joined the music was a clear note among the punk grit.
Stevie Bovo played St. Jimmy, a key role. With a leather jacket and shaved head, Bovo looked like some punk god that came to earth just to make sure teenagers lived short but exciting lives.
Beyond this, there were a host of other actors in smaller roles that distinguished themselves.
Unlike most any other show the students might put on, “American Idiot” doesn’t necessarily call for clear-as-a-bell tonal qualities. Sometimes the music needs to growl. That being said, the actors gave the music what it needed.
All in all, the show is worth seeing. It was a definite change of pace from your average musical, and the students did a good job bringing that out.
The only problem, if you can call it that, is that the show doesn’t use textbook storytelling. There’s very little dialogue in the classic sense.
Instead, the viewer relies on body language and lyrics to follow the story. If you aren’t paying attention to who is singing to whom and what they’re saying, you may miss something. That being said, it’s a fresh method that brought new life to an album I’ve known for years.
This show is running this weekend and Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 at Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre.
Ticket prices are $20 for general admission and $18 for seniors. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Shenandoah University Box Office at 540-665-4569 or visit www.ConservatoryPerforms.org. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more.
This production contains mature subject matter, including references to drug use, sexual content and profanity.
Choreography is by Tiffanie Carson (a Christopher K. Morgan & Company dancer). Musical direction is in the hands of Thomas Albert with vocal supervision by Matthew Edwards. Scenic design is by Bill Pierson, costume design by Tanner Pippert, lighting design by Mac Bozman and Chris Mudie, and sound design by Golder O’Neill.
— Contact Stephen Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org
By STEPHEN NIELSEN The Winchester Star
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF The Winchester Star