9/11 MILLENNIALS ARE CALLING OUT TO IDIOT AMERICA, GREEN DAY'S PUNK ROCK OPERA GETS A FRESH LOOK TO END THE SUMMER IN THE BAY AREA.
The Idiot nation is back; Johnny, Tunny and Will continue their journey with GREEN DAY’S Tony winner. Left-hand Theater Company’s summer musical AMERICAN IDIOT now at the Gateway Theatre in San Francisco creates a polished production -- on stage only through August 25th. Co-directed by AD Alexander Belmont and Christine Mani they bring a powerhouse cast to the Gateway stage with color blind casting including female actors for two of the main leads. Christine Mani says AI is “A remembrance a time in each of our lives where we had to make choices in our journey.” Billie Joe Armstrong told me as he staged this with his original director Micheal Mayer, “as the three boys step forward into their lives it is actually a step backward”.
HISTORY: This powerblast jukebox musical was born at the Berkeley Rep where it first workshopped in 2009. Billie teamed with Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) to workshop a musical based on his Grammy Award winning AMERICAN IDIOT LP. I had the eye opening honor to watch Armstrong and Mayer create this Tony award-winning musical. It then moved to NY for a short year and for the most part the New York theater community was not that excited. Yet the fans keep the books paid, and Billie Joe Armstrong had to join the cast in the role of St Jimmy to recoup the producers money.
This LHTC summer production is skillfully directed by Mani and Belmont, they have amped up the angst and disillusionment already present in Green Day's music, while at the same time presenting a tidier, understanding narrative with rage and incite - They have assembled a 13 member young cast to create this raging Idiot company. The nation of this Idiot cast is very diverse compared to Billie’s and Mayer's original concept since the three leads are lost white suburban kids. I was very pleased to see especially Asian and Latin talent in this intense force on stage. Both directors have created the passion and high energy anger of post 9-11 youth. The opening anthem “American Idiot” blows open the Gateway stage, and brings the pounding ballads under the music direction of Lucas Sherman and his three piece full throttle on stage band. Belmont created a chilling opening video clips that filled the on stage monitors.
The high energy snapshot of a modern teenage wasteland is fast paced and moves well on Joshua Harris’ set. He created a two level set with many entrances and a great pit for Madison Remigio’s pulsing light design. Madison is also the stage manager keeping the tight cast on cue with the many costume changes required. The rolling bus crafted for “Holiday” one of the busy company numbers is choreographed by the accomplished Kayla Santos.
The explosive Nick Rodrigues plays Johnny, he has an amazing energy and voice for the role. He brings a passion to the lost boy about to leave for a journey to nowhere. “When It’s Time” is an emo classic that Rodrigues sings with confidence. Tunny, is played by the searing Danielle Altizio, she has a stunning voice, and her very poignant solo “Before the Lobotomy” is moving and seeing a female in the role worked well. Altizio bro's out with her two boy pals and brings and new take when she joins the military.
The authentic Sean McGrory plays the third Idiot, Will, who stays back once he learns he is about to be a dad. McGrory spends most of his time as a couch potato stressing over Johnny’s travels, but remains one of the more dynamic actors on stage. Rodrigues, Altizio and McGrory bring that Green Day passion to “Jesus of Suburbia”. The lively Maya Phillips is dynamic as Heather, the young mother in the story, she is exceptional in “Dearly Beloved” and has a powerhouse, excellent voice.
Johnny meets Whatshername on his travels to his dark city, the spellbinding local favorite Maya Sherer is a show stopper in every detail in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with Rodrigues and McGrory. Shere brings her heartbreak and passion to this production especially in the powerful “21 Guns” that Billie wrote specifically for this musical. The elegant Melinda Camero as Extraordinary Girl, and her compassion for Tunny is fully realized in the song “Extraordinary Girl”.
The marvelous ensemble cast all pour their hearts and souls to the many iconic numbers from Armstrong's songs “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Give Me Novacaine”, “Before the Lobotomy”, “Letterbomb” and many more. The story is limited but this company adds a bit more to the tale of the three millennials and the choices they make.
The handsome Rodrigues also doubles as the recruiter that captures Tummy and shines in “Favorite Son”. Costume designer Tisha Harris’ pimp look for St. Jimmy is a great take on the druggie villain and Johnny's alter ego. St Jimmy enters the story midstream and is played by the sexy and intense Kayla Santos; she is Johnny's sidekick and Rodrigues and Santo make for a terrific team on stage. Santos’ dead animated gold pimp sometimes came off as a teenage Prince, but it works and Santos’ female edge was as seductive as any drug dealer and the two steal the show in “St Jimmy”.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” is impressive as the three Idiots deal with 9/11, the company is pitch perfect for this powerful number. The lighting designed by Remigio is moody and dark filled with pools of lights and side canons of spots that highlight Belmont’s video images. He has created a haunting back light effect with the many exits and entrances. “Last of the American Girls/ She’s a Rebel” is well directed and features the three leads perfect timing. Belmont wears five different hats including the clean sound design, the busy props, and the video clip images that string together the two act show. Originally staged as in your face 90 minutes of punk and rage, the two directors planted an intermission after “Novocaine”. I think it broke the pace of the show, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.
Other cast members have a number of impressive solos in “Rock and Roll Girlfriend”, “Nobody Likes You” and “Good Riddance” that include an exemplary ensemble cast; Patrick Brewer, Desiree Juanes, Ilana Greenberg, Michael Perez, Paige Collazo, and Harry Fahn. These young actors from the first note to the last bow all work exceptionally well together and sing and dance with such ferocity that you can't help but be swept up in their vibrant performances. The band is also a group of talented Idiots, always on stage, bring the pace of the show its best with MD Lucas Sherman, Abe Newman on guitars, Jon Bretan on bass and the constant energy of Quinten Cohen’s drums. Billie always mentioned to me he wanted the amps at 11 for his rock opera, and when he entered the Berkeley Rep for early workshops he replaced all the house amps with his high end venue volume gear. LHTC did not have the ear plug roar, yet the heart and soul that is Green Day is easy to see in this version of IDIOT.
“We’re Coming Home Again” brings the show to a close, the three have done their best to move forward in their lives, but in the end they have moved only backwards. John, Will, Tunny and company sing “Whatshername” and Johnny announces “This is my life”. Left-Handed Theatre’s keen AMERICAN IDIOT has a more intriguing narrative, it is also so much more in-your-face and metaphorically high-energy, emotional "intimate" production. After the company takes their bows, the cast returns, and elegantly perform the song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)". In the end you would be an idiot not to see what our hometown heroes Green Day have brought to the theatre. The cast invites you an opportunity to be an IDIOT and a Jesus of Suburbia. Closing weekend offers some excellent 20.00 seats and look for LHTC to announce their next musical very soon.
Left-Handed Theatre Company Presents
Music by Green Day
lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Christine Mani
and Alexander Belmont
Choreographed by Kayla Santos
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Must Close Aug 25
Gateway Theatre , 215 Jackson Street. San Francisco
90 min one intermission
Photos by LHTC
VMEDIA ARTS "GO SEE A SHOW" NICO JAOCHICO and ZAYA KOLIA visit with the cast
COMPANY: Nick Rodrigues, Maya Sherer, Kayla Santos, Danielle Altizio, Sean McGrory, Maya Phillips, Melinda Campero, Patrick Brewer, Desiree Juanes, Ilana, Greenberg, Michael Perez, Paige Collazo, Harry Fahn, The Band; Abe Newman, Jon Bretan, Quinten Cohen, Directed by Christine Mani and Alexander Belmont, Musical Director Lucas Sherman, Choreographer Kayla Santos