Casey O’Farrell: “American Idiot”is “a heartfelt story, not a cookie-cutter musical.”


When I was a young man, about 18 or so, I saw one of the most entertaining concerts of my life — Green Day on the main stage at the annual HFStival in Washington D.C.

I wasn't planning on enjoying it. My love affair with their most popular hits of the '90s, songs such as "Basket Case" and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" was long over. They were merely another act standing in the way of The Crystal Method, the headliners for the evening.

I had no idea what I was in for, but I soon found out.

From the first note to the last encore, the band was electric.

Musicians dressed in hot dog suits provided blaring horns against hard guitars and heavy drums. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong stripped down to perform and eventually set all of the instruments on fire. They went up in a blaze of glory in front of an audience of thousands.

It reignited my appreciation of the group and their showmanship, which is why I was thrilled when our theater critic asked if I might review the musical "American Idiot" at Centennial Hall on Saturday night.

The touring production, co-presented in town by Broadway in Tucson and UApresents, debuted in 2009, using music from Green Day's 2004 album of the same name and written by Armstrong and director Michael Mayer.

I doubt I will remember Saturday's show as fondly as I do my HFStival experience 15 years from now, which apparently puts me in the minority.

The production won six Tony awards and received a rave review from the New York Times in 2010.

It wasn't the music that rubbed me the wrong way. Nearly all the songs come from "American Idiot," an album that I enjoyed tremendously, with a smattering of original tunes and tracks from the band's follow-up release, "21st Century Breakdown."

The singing wasn't terrible either. I was particularly impressed by some of the lead female vocalists. Mariah MacFarlane, who played girlfriend-turned-baby-mama Heather, can belt out a Green Day song like nobody's business.

The problem was the plot, which seemed loosely placed amid a neverending string of dance numbers and live musical accompaniment.

They pack a lot of both within a 90-minute timespan. But they should have focused more on the conversations that happen between the musical interludes.

The rock opera follows three friends in the not-so-distant-past. One sets out to join the military. Another moves to the big city where he is exposed to wild parties, women and drugs. The third never makes it out of town after finding out his girlfriend is pregnant.

Teen angst is ever-present as the boys lose touch with one another and suffer the hardships that come with the roads they've chosen.

Rather than using more dialogue, something that could have provided far more depth to the characters, emotions are rolled out in song-after-song. At times, it is a challenge to determine what Armstrong and Mayer are trying to convey amid the flickering television sets that are staggered against the backdrop, the constant strobe light effects and the out-of-place lyrics.

They provide a superficial look, but leave you wanting more.

If you are a fan of Green Day's sound, particularly "American Idiot," you will enjoy this musical.

If you are looking for more substance, look elsewhere.

If you go

What: The musical “American Idiot.”

Presented by: Broadway in Tucson and UApresents.

By: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer.

Director: Michael Mayer.

When: 1 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. on the University of Arizona campus.

Tickets: $29-$65, with discounts available.

Reservations/information: 621-3341 or (call the 621-3341 number and you can avoid the hefty Ticketmaster charge).

Cast: Includes Casey O’Farrell, Dan Tracy; Jared Nepute, Olivia Puckett, Taylor Jones and Mariah MacFarlane.

Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.