REVIEW: American Idiot

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Set admist the rubble of a post-911 New York, Aubrey Berg, Assistant Director Tom Meglio, and their talented cast have managed to pull out the very loose, sometimes puzzling book for AMERICAN IDIOT and make an actual story out of it.  This Green Day musical features all the songs from that album and some new ones as well. It also features some very mature themes.  It’s not for everyone.

There is a lot of skin.  There is a lot of adult language.  Sex.  Drug use.  All the things you’d find in a Green Day punk musical.  And its a brilliant choice for a university production as all the actors are age appropriate.  The Ensemble is tremendous; some standouts are Ciara Alyse Harris, Tyler Jent, Phillip Johnson, Hamilton Moore, and Donelvan Thigpen.  There was not one distracting or poor performance among any of the large group of supporting players.

Ben Biggers is “Johnny,” a true rebel without a cause.  His friends, “Will” (Chris Collins-Pisano) and “Tunny” (Louis Griffin) are bored and unsettled.  And each take a very different path as they set out to find their place in the adult world outside of suburbia.  Rounding out the main cast are Clara Cox as “Whatshername,” Shauna Topian as “Heather,” Cameron Anika Hill as “Extraordinary Girl,” and John Battagliese as “St. Jimmy.”

Will stays home and lives a mediocre and boring life full of video games and beer. His girlfriend Heather is pregnant, which plays heavily into his decision to abandon Johny and Tunny on their grand adventure.  Some of the best vocals come from Topian, while Collins-Pisano remains one of the most consistent performers on the CCM stage.

Tunny ends up in the military (after a strange fantasy sequence featuring a patriotic-underwear clad Hamilton Moore) and falls in love with the Extraordinary Girl who helped care for him after being a casualty of war.  This is the first time Griffin has been in a starring role at CCM and he takes hold of it, singing beautifully and acting it well.  He very much looks the part of a soldier with his chiseled physique and closely cropped haircut.  It’s a very good performance.  Hill does a very nice job with her fleeting moments on stage, as well.

Johnny finds himself falling in love with a woman he meets in the city, is lured into the heroin lifestyle, and fortunately comes out on the other side alive. Cox is understated here but makes the most of her stage time.  Her performance of “Letterbomb” is a highlight.

Biggers is a remarkable actor; he has tremendous presence on stage and his vocal performance on the quieter ballads in this production show vulnerability and humanity.  Hopefully going forward the sound designers and techs can prevent the unfortunate microphone issues he had on opening night.

St. Jimmy is the alter ego of Johnny; his “Bad Idea Bear” if this were Avenue Q.  Battagliese practically runs away with the show when he arrives, with his enormous talent consuming the character and the stage.  He’s a great performer and he gives this character the evil, seedy, and seductive characteristics he needs as he lures Johnny down a path of self-destruction.  I predict big, big things for him.

The choreography from Samantha Pollino, a CCM senior, is perfect.  It was so natural and congruent with the tone of the show I didn’t even think about it until halfway through the show.  There were moments of brilliant movement, especially in some of the more emotional numbers and Pollino is more than a triple-threat . . . she has more skills and talent than I can count.

The set design by Thomas Umfrid is loud and perfect.  Lighting designer CJ Mellides has some nice effects and spotlights all the right moments.  Sound Designer Kevin Semancik will need to coach his board operators as there were multiple missed cues and above mentioned mishap with Bigger’s microphone, which did hurt the quality fo the show some.  Jillian Floyds wigs and Jillian Coratti’s costumes all reflect the time and culture grungily, which is the point.

The show is not perfect; no matter how brilliant the direction the book is limiting.  Many of the rock songs are simply not what these students are trained for and so they push a little too hard.  But for storytelling, professional presentation, and emotive performance you’ll find few better than this cast and crew.

AMERICAN IDIOT runs through March 13th in the Patricia Corbett Theater at The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  Click here for tickets.  For mature audiences only.