By Andrew Bansal
May 14th 2014, Pantages Theatre, Hollywood CA: Ever since the foundations of the genre were laid in the 50s and 60s, rock has constantly crossed paths with theatre, as artists like Alice Cooper, The Who and Pink Floyd pioneered the art of blending the two world together, and the concept was subsequently embraced in different forms and to varying degrees by several rock groups and musicians over the years. Fast forward to 2009, California punk rock band Green Day decided to collaborate with director Michael Mayer for a theatrical adaptation of their 2004 chart-topping album ‘American Idiot’. The play opened to rave reviews and reactions that year, moved to Broadway soon after, and became an internationally touring act in 2011 and 2012. The touring musical returned to Los Angeles this week for eight back-to-back shows at the Pantages Theatre in the heart of Hollywood, and yours truly was in attendance for show #2 last night to give you a hard rock/heavy metal fan’s perspective of the show.
Doors to this classy theatre opened at 7 PM, ticket holders calmly made their way in, and within an hour, all were seated in anticipation of the show. The curtains were lifted a few minutes past 8 o’ clock to unveil the elaborate backdrop set designed to deliver this Green Day album like most fans would have never experienced before. The 90-minute performance consisted of ‘American Idiot’ in its entirety, with the instrumental parts i.e. guitar, bass, drums and keyboards played live by a backing band and the vocal parts sung through by members of the cast, the protagonists also playing the acoustic guitar wherever appropriate. Opening with a lively rendition of the title track, the ensemble moved through the album in order, with the visual dimension of their adaptation prominently taking the foreground, aptly depicting the story of the life of Jesus of Suburbia and his battles through drugs and rage. The cast not only did justice to the expression carried by the music in its original studio album form but amplified it tenfold with their presentation which also comprised small skits in between songs and extended the 58-minute duration of the actual album to make it a full 90-minute show.
To Green Days fans well adept in their knowledge and appreciation of the album, the changes in tempo, moods and expressions from one track to the next were quite evident by the manner in which it was performed by this young cast, for instance when they moved from the joyous ‘Holiday’ to the intensely depressing ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’ and similar mood swing from ‘St. Jimmy’ to ‘Give Me Novacaine’ and then from ‘Letterbomb’ to ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’. During the darker segments, I couldn’t help but reminisce Alice Cooper songs like ‘Ballad Of Dwight Fry’ and the way the great man presents them in his shows.
Following the completion of their breathtaking adaptation of the album itself with the final track ‘Whatsername’, the cast bowed to the audience, the curtain fell, but then lifted again as all members of the ensemble donned acoustic guitars and put forth a beautiful rendition of ‘Time Of Our Lives’ as the encore. The audience gave them a standing ovation and a vast majority of them would have left the venue satisfied with what they’d witnessed when weighed against the time and money spent on it.
Viewing it purely from the point of view of a rock music fan seeking a visual representation of a studio album, American Idiot the musical succeeds with what it sets out to achieve as it leaves no stone unturned in fully bringing the album to life, and the most positive aspect of it is the fact that the ‘live’ aspect is still very much maintained, with the acting, the choreography and the backing band, and it’s by no means a lip-sync operation. Its success paves the way for rock bands to contemplate similar adaptations and collaborations, and proves that rock music, with the right treatment, can cross over to other forms of live entertainment such as musical theatre, with great effect. For rock and theatre connoisseurs alike, ‘American Idiot’ the musical is definitely worthwhile.