“Extraordinary” Ensemble Makes UAC's 'Idiot'” - Review
“American Idiot!” When we read or hear this phrase, a few thoughts come to mind: the overabundance of mind-numbing television, lowered educational standards, higher death tolls based around random acts of stupidity, disdain for ::Insert Political Figure/Reality T.V. Icons/Do-Nothing Celebrity Here:: Some might argue that “America” & “Idiocy” go “hand-in-hand”. But, chances are if you were to scream this phrase in the middle of a group of suburban “Millennials”, they'd most likely start head-banging & jumping around, frantically. No, not from over thinking the aforementioned... It's because this is the phrase that set American Punk Rock ablaze with the introduction of the 2005 Grammy Award nominated song from the album of the same name by Punk Rock icons, Green Day. Luckily, Broadway Director Michael Mayer & Green Day's own, Billie Joe Armstrong, saw the story in the music for what its true potential was, bringing the Rock Opera Album to life with the completion of the 2010 Broadway Musical “Green Day's American Idiot”.
Broadway's “Idiot” was a production of epic proportions, primarily centering the lives of three young men, each going through their own challenging journey into the unknown abyss of “American Freedom”. Riddled with worry, well accustomed with self-insecurities & distraught from the world around them, these “prodigal sons of sorts” bear their burdens until they can find the strength to awaken themselves & find their ways “back home”, be them better or worse from their experiences. It was with this charge that Director Jim Shedd & “Up & Coming Theatre Company” launched into the deep, opening their 2015 Season with the Midwest Premiere of the 2010 Tony Award-Winning Production. Needless to say, this community ensemble had pretty HUGE shoes to fill... which they, for the most part, did pretty effectively. Not without flaw, but still rather effectively.
Those who know the show (and are true Green Day fans) are aware that the story line literally takes the original 2004 album (and a few other carefully placed songs from the Green Day play list) and strings them into an almost effortlessly crafted & exhilarating tale. Based in post 9/11 America, Johnny (Vocally Coy, but Dynamically Covered by Alex Levy), Will (deftly handled by Cale Singleton) and Tunny (a Stellar Role for Roy Brown) find themselves unsettled with life (“American Idiot”, “Jesus of Suburbia Medley”), but while Johnny & Tunny run away from their 'Suburban Prison' to experience the freedom of the city, Will stays behind to work things out with his newly pregnant girlfriend, Heather (embodied beautifully by Abby Vombrack). Eventually, his lack of motivation & rise in complacency, land him alone. (“Too Much Too Soon”; Excellent Vocals by Linda Andrews & Rob Chesler ) While on “Holiday” (watch out for Noreen Patel's searing solo!), life gets the better of the boys. Tunny finds the city isn't all it's cracked up to be, snapping at his overzealous friend. While Johnny walks off his frustrations (an imaginative but lacking “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) Tunney, in an effort to find his own way, he responds to a television ad to enlist the U.S. Military (“Favorite Son”; Especially hot performance by John Fogarty & Company). He joins the Military (Awesomely driving vocal by Brown on “Are We the Waiting”) and goes to war.
Johnny, now left alone, turns to the life of a rock star: Sex, Drugs and plenty of Rock & Roll. (“Give Me Novacaine”). Johnny's habit develops into the encompassing of an eerie alter ego, “St. Jimmy” (A hauntingly gritty performance by Mitch Schaeflein). Throughout his personal struggle, he begins a relationship with a woman, referred to as Whatsername (Fiery Performances by Leah Davis. Somebody cast her as “Lady in the Lake from “Spamalot”, please!). This kinship of sorts doesn't last as St. Jimmy takes over Johnny's persona, making him a danger to himself and Whatsername. (An overcrowded “Know Your Enemy”) Finding comfort in his demons, Johnny leaves her a note stating that he chooses St. Jimmy's stronghold over her sensual touch. She belts an power-packed “Letterbomb” and leaves Johnny to his misery. While away at war, Tunny suffers a devastating injury resulting in the loss of his leg. (A compassionately heart-wrenching rendition of “Before the Lobotomy”) While in recovery, he meets The Extraordinary Girl (well done to Ashley Foreman) whom he falls in love with. Johnny, eventually leaves his demons and turns his life around (Homecoming Medley). The boys reunite and all are better for their experiences; good, bad, ugly or indifferent.
A great part of what makes this show so amazing is how Green Day's music has its own theatrical element to it that really lends to the immense vocal talent in the UAC production. Hands down, my favorite Green Day song happens to be “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. It was a number I was in heavy anticipation for. I can say that the smooth harmonies of Levy, Singleton & Brown did not disappoint. Other HOT numbers to look for: The heart-felt “When It's Time”, “She's A Rebel”, “Last Night On Earth” the epic showstopper “21 Guns” and, of course the FULL CAST GUITAR RENDITION of “Good Riddance (Time of your Life)” lead up by Brown, Singleton & Ensemble Member, Bennett Norris.
Big props to Musical Director Kelly Fitzgerald and to the Band for bringing Green Day to Arlington Heights (Justin Konos, Steven Serra, Morganne Evans, Conor Roe, Michael Goldman, Annie Guidish, Hanna Brubaker & Kristina Jackson) You made this a journey worth listening to and your amazing work doesn't goes unnoticed. Congratulations are also in order to the folks that make the physical aesthetic of 2004 something to remember: Costume Designer Sandi Haggard & Hair & Make-Up Design/Assistant Costume Design Meghan Graves: Your work was exceptional! “Extraordinary”, even?
No production of this tenacity can take place without the work of an amazingly focused & dedicated ensemble. The aggressive wall of sound that attacks the audience from start to finish makes this production one of the best sung I've heard in a long while. The work of this team of performers need not go unnoticed: Thank you to Tyler Callahan, RJ Cecott, Rob Chesler, Jay-R De Leon, Cole Festenstein, Chris Filarski, John Fogarty, Chris Gonzalez, Domingo Morales, Bennett Norris, Bob Spidale, Alex Vito, Max Zumpano, Linda Andrews, Alayna Appino-Tabone, Catherine Athenson, Grace Baird, Lizzy Behrendt, Lauren Brooks, Erica Chin, Kat Chwalisz, Nicolette de Guia, Britny Hendrickson, Julie Hoadley, Amanda Jacobs, Sheradin Jansen, Lauren Jordan, Katey Kelleher, Jacqueline Kotula, Jennifer Ledesma,Christina Melgar, Amanda Nach, Erin O’Brien, Lisa Panizo, Noreen Patel, Marni Robins, Samantha Stonecipher, Rebecca Sweeney & Kelly Wojo for bringing your all to the stage.
While I feel that everyone did their very best within the perimeters given, my issues with UAC's revival is that we sometimes lose the story from an overabundance of flawed technical executions & generally bad elemental choices. The biggest culprit of Musical Blasphemy is Sound Designer & Operator Alec Kinastowski. Throughout the show, mic cues were constantly late & levels were super hot on unnecessary ensemble members. Even some solos changed levels mid-song. It didn't stop the production, but it was a nasty distraction. Though the lighting elements were beautiful when proper, there were an abundance of random blackouts in the light plot of Scenic & Lighting Designer's Rick Keeley. One could forgive a slip here & there. Any performer could... but when there are moments were spots & specials completely missed their marks, leaving leads in darkness for 16-24 bars of their solos, it could be argued that when you do two both things, they both suffer. The boxy yet intricate set design was beautifully grungy but seemed to be missing something. Perhaps because it such a different interpretation, my brain won't accept it, but something seemed amiss. Moving pieces make setups really pop, but the stationary stuff needed an important edge or touch that's been missed.
Also, whatever seems to be obstructing the stage left exit... please move it. There's always a traffic jam there on exits. If it's not a blockade, actors move & lights hold. OK. The “Concerned Actor” in me is done.
There seemed to be something of an “overcasting”. With the extra bodies, Shedd's staging seemed uncomfortably overcrowded on certain numbers and sometimes oddly blocked in others. A great deal of Carly Vadnais' choreography felt the same ways, as some movement pieces were amazingly stronger (“Favorite Son”, “Letterbomb”, "Are We The Waitin) than others due to both body numbers ("The Extraordinary Girl") & a seeming lack of focus (“Boulevard...”). This, however, does not reflect on the talent represented in performance. “American Idiot” is an ensemble show... and there's no doubt that, despite technical flaws, the ensemble wasn't afraid to grab patrons by the balls and serve them a hot heaping piece of life. UAC's show has all the heart, talent & charm of the original... “You better run for your fucking life” and see “Idiot” before these artists dissipate.