FEATURE EDITORIAL REVIEW
Written By: Fridae Mattas
Unlike the previous musical I was to review this one was much different, although I knew most of the songs it was all about how it was written, compiled and presented. When I first heard about Green Day turning their album into a musical I was a little skeptical, it left me wondering how it would be adapted and the endeavor itself was particularly interesting coming from a punk band that cracked into the mainstream. Although I wasn’t as excited as most of the people there, I do have a few Green Day records including American Idiot and have been familiar with the band since they dropped their major label debut “Dookie”. “When I Come Around” was the first song of Green Day’s that I heard when I was about 8 or 9, their music instantly drew me in because their sound was different. As a band, Green Day has been steadily climbing the charts in the twenty plus years they have been floating, quickly becoming power players in this industry and still have plenty of room to grow.
Of course we were cutting it close, unlike concerts, musicals actually start on time and we thought for sure we were going to be locked out but the super efficient usher greeter at the Toronto Centre For The Arts managed to run us down to where we needed to be. Literally, we ran down the corridor to reach our amazing orchestra seating one minute prior to the production start. A minute after we settled into what looked like an almost full theater and got comfortable the show began. At first I was a little disoriented because it was just bam, bright lights and fifty people all singing and dancing American Idiot at the same time, there wasn’t a specific focal point. After the slight confusion I managed to get into the story line as it unfolded which is surprisingly well written.
This musical journey of wasted youth stands apart from the competition, the one act musical has three relatable situations that unfurl to the music of Green Day’s hit album American Idiot. The writer of the libretto is Green Day’s lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong who wrote the book with the productions Director Michael Mayer. Toronto is the first stop and the only Canadian date of the musical’s tour and I am very grateful to have been able to see it for myself. The redefining show has taken modern musicals to a whole other level, definitely setting a new standard. The set’s were interesting and well put together looking fantastic, the lighting and sound crew did a phenomenal job amplifying the feel at the perfect times. The costumes were fitting wardrobe deserves credit for the outfits, one scene had a few of the females wearing these cute glittery and sparkly dresses which I absolutely loved and the male costumes had Billie Joe’s dirty grunge punk Rockstar style written all over it, particularly the character “St. Jimmy” played by Joshua Kobak. No surprise Green Day’s Armstrong played St. Jimmy for a few shows of the Broadway run and who knows maybe he will reprise his role in the future. Kobak’s performance needs some sharpening, he had great energy but vocally was all over the place and he was occasionally over acting.
As much as I enjoyed the musical as a whole, there were many flaws that I noticed regarding individual performances but on a whole note the entire show was spectacular. It took me a minute but one of the characters “Will” was played by the Degrassi kid Jake Epstein, I believe he was in the Drake generation of Degrassi but I could be lying because I stopped watching Degrassi when the first generation in the early 90’s went to junior high and then high school. If you have never seen Degrassi don’t worry you are not missing out, it’s a corny Canadian TV show that somehow went global with syndication. Anyway, Epstein is one of two Canadian’s in the touring cast of the musical and his portrayal of “Will” was pretty good, even though a lot of the time his character just sits there on a couch at the corner of the stage strumming a guitar. His vocals were surprisingly impressive, almost at par with lead actor Van Hughes. Jake’s dancing was alright considering the choreography and Hughes’s steps weren’t too bad either but a lot of the white people on the stage had no rhythm. Van Hughes is the Actor who plays “Johnny” the lead in the musical, a young angst ridden man who gets lost among the shuffled darkness of the glitz and glamor but eventually comes full circle. He did a spectacular job, I can totally see why they cast him for that role. The only thing I suggest Hughes works on is controlling his adrenaline when he sings, there were a few puberty cracks in there.
Let’s talk a minute about the choreography, some of the routines in this production I had to wonder about, much of the ensemble dancing reminded me of that bad cheerleading choreography from the film “Bring It On” when they hire a so called “Choreographer” for Nationals and the routine is hilariously bad. That is how some of the dancing came off to me, especially the girl who played “Heather” Leslie McDonel, she has a stellar voice for musical theater it was enjoyable to hear but the girl is not a dancer. She had no rhythm, there was no grace or fluidity with her movements and she looked very uncomfortable during certain numbers. Awkward and embarrassing to watch but what blew my mind the most was when I read the program, this same horrible dancer is the dance captain for the musical. How in the world did that happen? Then again it explains many of the chorus cast’s occasional missteps, how can they get the moves right when their dance captain can’t even deliver them herself.
Of all the females on the stage the only one who had the triple threat factor and didn’t fade into the crowd was Gabrielle McClinton who played “Whatsername”, her dancing was the most natural and she looked like she was comfortable on the stage, owning it. As good as she is Gabrielle still needs to work on those vocals because it sounded like she was forcing them and they were intermittently throaty which in the future will strain and damage her chords from continually singing wrong. McClinton may have over used her throat but nothing compares to Scott J. Campbell’s vocals which were pushing an Eddie Vedder, Chad Kroeger, Scott Stapp blend, I was extremely uncomfortable when he sang because my ears really did not enjoy the sound of him biting his words and throating it through the show. There were moments of confusion when Campbell’s character “Tunny” had way too many of these random dream sequences or at least I think that’s what they were. The transitions were choppy couldn’t tell if it was a dream or reality, there are a few other scenes that were a tad muddled just the same. This show was what? The third performance of the freshly opened tour so I don’t blame them for not being perfect, nobody ever is. A highlight was when they took flight, it was definitely entertaining to see a drop in from the ceiling and more flying around.
My favorite moment was watching and listening to Boulevard of Broken Dreams come to life with almost a full orchestra, I heard some strings in there but not the violin a member of the same string family yes but a little lower and deeper like the Cello but not as low as a Bass. The Cello was the first instrument I ever learned how to play and hearing it always makes me feel nostalgic taking me back to the third grade, I will never forget the distinct string bowed sound but mostly will never forget walking home lugging that large instrument to and from school. Regardless of my critiques for most of the numbers the cast’s harmonies were flawless, I thoroughly enjoying myself as I watched the entire show, it was not too corny but it did have its moments. Everyone must see this melodious explosion of a musical, huge congratulations to all the crew and creators, this musical is definitely one for the record books. American Idiot the musical is Fridae approved! Only in Toronto until January 15th 2012 for everyone else check the website for the next tour stops.