By Dale King
Outré Theater Company’s production of American Idiot, a rock opera spun from an album written and recorded by the rock group Green Day, has a lot of potential.
The production, which closes with a matinee Sunday at Outré’s new home in the Pompano Beach Cultural Center, features a dozen actors with first-rate credentials and admirable voices. The show has a viable, but war-weary plot. And the presence of a live band, usually a sign that the songs and accompaniment will be in sync, turns out to be a poor choice.
At least in Act I, the band performs so loudly that most song lyrics are lost in a cacophony of thudding drums and blaring guitars. By the start of Act II, the musicians have toned down their instruments and the songs can be heard. But at least during opening weekend, a number of patrons apparently chose to leave during intermission. Too bad, since the second act is considerably better than the first.
In fact, without the heavy background music, most of the songs are quite enjoyable, especially the mellow ballad “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” an acoustic guitar piece which relates directly to the conclusion and helps bring everyone back to the stage for the finale.
The show is clearly concocted as a war protest. As Doug Wetzel, Outré’s managing director who helms this production, puts it: “Although ‘American Idiot’ is set in the time of the Iraq War and circumstances have evolved, it is as poignant today as when it premiered on Broadway. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
There does seem to be a saving grace in this rock opera that allowed it to win both Tony and Grammy awards after premiering in 2010. But the message is elusive. American Idiot seems to end pretty much the same way it begins, and that’s a disappointment. Outré Theater has done better shows. Its last drama, George Orwell’s 1984, was a gripping, heart-wrenching story of a society living under ultimate government oppression. For American Idiot, cast members hit the stage with the same enthusiasm as they did in 1984, but are stunted in the opening act. Good vocals become strained while competing with the music.
Also, Wetzel seems to lose control of scenes as on-stage chaos ensues. Performers move about with no apparent destination. The fact that the multi-purpose room seems more appropriate for basketball than theater is also an ongoing problem.
American Idiot centers on three disaffected young men, Johnny (Dimitri Gann), Will (Eytan Deray) and Tunny (Patrick Rodriguez). Johnny and Tunny flee their stifling suburban lifestyles and parental restrictions while Will stays home to work out his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Jordana Forrest).
In their search for freedom and excitement in the city, Tunny quickly gives up on life, joins the military and is shipped off to war where he is shot up, sent to a hospital and has a leg amputated. While recuperating, he is treated by a nurse (Elisa Dannielle) and they fall in love.
One particularly notable character, St. Jimmy (portrayed with forbidding intrigue by Conor Walton), is an adventurous drug dealer who shows up more and more frequently as he tries to pull Johnny into his net.
As it turns out, Johnny does turn to drugs and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike. He also has a passionate relationship with a girl called “Whatsername” (Hilleah Neve), though it doesn’t work out.
Hurt by her departure, Johnny longs for better days ahead. Tunny longs for home and Will longs for all the things he’s lost. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is sung here as the end of the show approaches and characters begin to wrap up their affairs.
After cast members take their bows, they all gather to perform one of Green Day’s better-known songs, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” as the audience departs.
Outré Theatre’s production of American Idiot concludes its run with a matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center, 50 Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach. Tickets are $39 adults, $19 students and industry and are available at www.ccpompano.org or by calling (954) 545-7800.