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Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)


In 1968 “Hair,” dubbed the American Tribal Love-Rock musical, exploded on Broadway.  It shocked the nation, but gave an accurate picture of a world rocked with chaos.  The Vietnam war raged, the peace movement flourished, draft cards were burned, rebellion against traditional values exploded.  ”Drugs, sex and rock and roll” became the mantra of the day and were clearly exposed on stage.  The show’s book was strong and the score was filled with top ten hits including “Aquarius,”  “Good Morning Starshine,” “I Believe in Love,” and “Where Do I Go?”  It became the seminal musical theatre offering illustrating “theater representing the era from which it comes.”


In 1996 RENT, opened on Broadway.  The rock musical, aimed at the MTV generation, was a reflection of the era’s turn of the century dilemmas including HIV/AIDS, regentrification, the coarseness of a nation torn apart by political turmoil, and the emerging gay pride movement.  It had a strong story, identifiable characters, and contained such mega musical hits as, “Light My Candle,” “Life Support,” “Another Day,” “Your Eyes,” “Santa Fe,” and “Seasons of Love.”  It is considered to be the seminal musical theatrical work for entering into 21st century America.


Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, who created “American Idiot,” seemingly tried to duplicate the success of “Hair” and “Rent” in reflecting the societal image of the mid-2010s by creating a musical based on high-octane rock guitar riffs, vigorous singing and dancing, and what they term “an evergreen narrative of teen rage, love and loss.”


Unfortunately, their creation, though it works on some levels, does not have the story line depth, the quality of music, and the stage presence of “Hair” or “Rent.”


The show is an adaptation of the concept album “American Idiot” by punk rock band, Green Day.


The show opened on Broadway in April of 2010 and ran for a year, marking up 422 performances.


A road tour version of “American Idiot” is running at the Palace theatre for an abbreviated four performance run.


The musical is filled with energy, but the wafer thin story lacks emotional depth.  There is little to grab and hold the audience’s imagination.  In contrast to “Hair” and “Rent,” it is difficult to feel empathy or attachment for any of the characters.


Though the show’s album won a Grammy, there isn’t a standout song.  In fact, after a while, all the songs sound somewhat alike….loud and guitar heavy.


The choreography, thought filled with high level energy, is repetitious and helps little in developing the story.


The tale takes place “in the recent past,” and concerns three guy friends who plan to escape their suburban “wasteland.”  As they are about to part, one (Will)  finds out that his girl friend (Heather) is pregnant.  He decides to stay home, leaving the other two to go on their way.


Life in the “big city” doesn’t turn out to be what the boys expected.  One (Johnny) wanders down the road to drug addiction (supplied by the snarly St. Jimmy) and sexual depravity (with Whatsername).  The other (Tunny) enlists in the army and goes off to fight in the much hated Iraqi war.   Tunny loses a leg, but falls in love with his nurse (The Extraordinary Girl).  Eventually, Johnny recognizes the error of his ways and returns to suburbia, as does Tunny and his love.  (Oh, yes, the plot is thin.)


The cast of the touring production is excellent, especially considering the group has little to no professional experience.   They are recent college grads who are displaying their talents in their hopeful march to fame and fortune.


Lead characters are Jared Nepute (Johnny), Casey O’Farrell (Will), Dan Tracy (Tunny), Mariah MacFarlane (Heather), Carson Higgins (St. Jimmy), Olivia Puckett (Whatsername), and Taylor Jones (The Extraordinary  Girl).


As was the case on Broadway, the set and lighting are outstanding.


There is a nice trend in recent touring shows.  Strongsville native and Baldwin Wallace graduate, Corey Mach, starred “Flashdance” on the Palace stage, and the “American Idiot” band includes the talented bass playing of Josh Sebo, son of Temple Tifereth Israel’s superb cantor, Kathy Sebo, and husband Rommie Sebo.


Capsule judgment:  “Green Day’s American Idiot” is a loud, brash musical which attempts to tell the tale of modern day America.   In spite of a well-performed and musically proficient  performance, the thin script and redundant musical sounds resulted in a quickly to be forgotten theatrical experience. 


“American Idiot,” a part of the US Bank Star Performance Series, run at the Palace Theatre form April 25th through the 27th, 2014.