Green Day goes to the theater 

What happened offstage at Wednesday’s opening of “American Idiot” was just as exciting as what happened onstage: Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s sold-out auditorium was packed with people well under 30 -- clearly, a good thing.

That attendance, and the fact that the show’s run already has been extended, isn’t entirely surprising, given Green Day’s international popularity as well as its hometown appeal.

But will the world-premiere rock opera based on the East Bay band’s monster 2004 album be the savior of live theater for generations to come? Not necessarily.

The show has lots going for it: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool’s quintessentially 21st century score of melodic rock songs, for one major thing.

Skillfully arranged for an eight-piece band, including a standout string section, they sound terrific, sung by a crack team of youthful, almost too good-looking Broadway professionals under the direction of Michael Mayer.

Mayer, who had a hit with “Spring Awakening,” returns to a familiar theme of teen angst in “Idiot,” which ultimately, undeniably captures the mood of alienated youth throughout the show, thanks to the sheer power of the songs.

Yet the story -- a loosely defined coming-of-age tale about an angry suburban kid Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.), his friends, his demons, his lover -- remains thin.

Surface characters, an undeveloped plot, MTV-inspired choreography and costumes that look too much like costumes (or like they were supplied by fashion experts at Levi’s, a show sponsor) at times lend a lack of authenticity and keep viewers at a distance. 

It’s a quibble, though; early rock operas like “Tommy” or “Jesus Christ Superstar” were more spectacles than profoundly emotional experiences, weren’t they?

And “American Idiot” does have its moving moments, particularly with its biggest hits and the most hummable songs, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” – great tunes that accurately describe the travails of contemporary kids.

A couple of tunes not on the original album were added, to little effect, although Green Day diehards may feel differently.

The set’s dominant element is its back wall, which stretches up to a high ceiling and is appropriately dotted with flat video screens -- surely a sign of the new century.

Some theatrical tricks, particularly the Disney-like flying (a la Peter Pan) in “Extraordinary Girl” add a bit of a classic musical feel to the show.

While the place “American Idiot” will play in the annals of stage history remains to be seen, it nonetheless is making a positive mark on the local scene, opening the world of theater to people who’ve not experienced its power before.

THEATER REVIEW


American Idiot

Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 1

Tickets: $16 to $95

Contact: (510) 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org
 

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Leslie Katz

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