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See This Play: “American Idiot”


Jukebox musicals (“Mamma Mia,” “All Shook Up,” “Movin’ Out”) take the songs of a band or artist and build a show around them. The results are … hit or miss. Why have I been so excited about “American Idiot,” then? Well, Green Day’s album was conceived as a rock opera, so translating it to the stage didn’t seem like such a stretch. Plus, that director! That cast! A surefire recipe for success.

And does it hold up to my ridiculously high expectations? Well, yes and no. “American Idiot” falls into the trap of pretty much every other jukebox musical: it sacrifices a plot to cram as many familiar songs as it can into one show. Sure, there are themes and events in the play, but to say it has an actual story would be overdoing it.

But wait—isn’t this feature called “See This Play”? Yes, thanks for noticing! The truth is, you should see “American Idiot.” Just know what you’re getting yourself into. This show is ridiculously loud, ridiculously over-the-top, ridiculously, uh, ridiculous. It’s so in-your-face that it’s actually kind of painful. But, you know, in a good way. This is a spectacle like nothing else you’ll ever see, combining multimedia effects, high-wire acrobatics, and enough strobe lights to send the entire audience into convulsions. Good times.

Add to that a slew of fantastic performances, particularly from the three leads: John Gallagher, Jr. as Johnny (the Jesus of Suburbia), Michael Esper as Will, and Matt Caplan as Tunny. The cast gives it their all and—perhaps more importantly—they make these songs their own. “American Idiot” never feels like a Green Day concert minus Green Day, and that in itself is impressive.

Is this the future of theater? I remain skeptical. Is it one of the most exciting and entertaining shows I’ve seen in ages? You better believe it.

See “American Idiot” at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley, from now to November 1. Tickets can be purchased on the Berkeley Repertory Theatre website.

Photo courtesy Berkeley Rep.