American Idiot (Broadway in Chicago): Punky youth and three-chord monsters

American Idiot (Broadway in Chicago): Punky youth and three-chord monsters

Reviewed by Tom Lawler

Broadway in Chicago presents AMERICAN IDIOT.

There are two ways to experience American Idiot, an exuberant, scrappy rock opera about a trio of suburban friends on separate journeys in a post-high school wasteland. On one hand, you can try to imagine yourself 10 or 15 years younger and taking in this night at the theater. Hey, you know these Green Day songs! Dudes seem cool. This band on stage is kicking some major ass and whoa, these girls can really sing!

Or, you can just admit that in your advanced years you may not be the target demo for this production. This means you have to find a way to not think that all the profanity seems more gratuitous than cool, to ignore that what’s supposed to be punk seems more Hot Topic and don’t concern  yourself that the “story” between songs ranges between clunky and non-existent.

This will be a much more fun night out if you can experience this as your younger self, so let’s do that. First off, let’s talk about the music. In the spirit of one of their idols, The Who, Green Day released their American Idiot album back in 2004 as a rock opera. What a collection of songs!  The album not only launched five huge singles (you know at least 3 of them, trust me), but it also it went on to be Green Day’s second-biggest album of all-time – selling 15 million copies worldwide. When the on-stage band tears into one of these three-chord monsters, you have one thought: This rawks!

The twin engines of this show are undoubtedly these punchy, catchy rock songs and a young, passionate cast that put their all into their vocals and dancing. American Idiot has a large multi-ethnic ensemble cast who join in for most of the songs – any resemblance to Rent is surely intentional. Alex Nee, on leave from Northwestern University and starring in the role of Johnny, as been styled as (Green Day frontman) Billy Joe Armstrong’s stunt double and matches his vocals sneer for sneer.

The females in the cast seem to have taken a few pointers on rock vocals from Katie Perry, but can really bring it – especially Kennedy Caughell as Heather, who derails one of the main character’s plans to escape the suburbs when she becomes pregnant (not that he had anything to do with it).

At its heart, American  Idiot is about the allure and dangers of youth, but it also surprises at times with something a bit more . . . mature. “Favorite Son,” a parody of an army recruitment commercial in the style of a musical revue is an ideal showcase for the all-around talents of Jared Young. Likewise, an eerie acrobatic sequence taking place in a GI sick bay in Iraq reflects the invaluable contributions of choreographer Steven Hogget (Black Watch).

Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

At the Cadillac Palace Theater, 151 W. Randolph

Music by Green Day, Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong

Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Directed by Michael Mayer

Thursdays and Friday at 7:30pm, Saturdays a 2pm and 8pm; Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm

Thru April 21

Buy tickets at or call (800) 775-2000.


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