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Green Day musical ‘American Idiot’ makes for a memorable punk night out at the Smith Center

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Photo: Steve Marcus
Jacob Coakley

Four stars

American Idiot, through June 16; Thursday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 2 p.m.; $24-$129, Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall, 749-2000.

American Idiot, Green Day’s punk musical, is many things, but quiet isn’t one of them. The ushers even give out complimentary earplugs as you walk in. It is, however, irrepressible, catchy as hell and pure adrenaline onstage.

The show follows three friends—Johnny (played by Alex Nee), Will (Casey O’Farrell) and Tunny (Thomas Hettrick)—as they move from suburbs to city, and from disaffected youth to, well, that’s left open but optimistic. You won’t find measured acting here, but as an explosion of angst and energy, Nee, O’Farrell and Hettrick bring it in spades.

On opening night Hettrick’s voice was a bit raspy, but it didn’t overly affect his performance. Kennedy Caughell, Alyssa DiPalma and Jenna Rubaii aren’t given enough to do as the girlfriends of the leads, but DiPalma takes no prisoners in “Letterbomb.”

Michael Mayer staged the action creatively. Tom Kitt’s arrangements and orchestrations ensure that the small band for the show (led by Evan Jay Newman), consistently has a bigger sound than it should. And the choral harmonies in the larger numbers fill out Green Day’s hooky melodies with a luscious sound. The show’s secret weapon? Steven Hoggett’s choreography. He develops simple punk-rock moves like pogoing into a language that speaks not only of aggression but also of yearning, desire and desolation. A pas de deux between Nee and DiPalma, as they’re held together with rubber tubing used during a heroin binge, is beautiful. Kevin Adams won a Tony Award for the lighting design, and it’s easy to see why.

Yet with all that, it’s not quite perfect. Two of the three female characters don’t even have names—and they all have even fewer dimensions. Idiot’s rock roots show a little too baldly in areas, with impressionistic songs in place of actual drama. And despite some generous attempts to explain the character of St. Jimmy (played with verve by Trent Saunders), it’s never quite clear what’s happening between Johnny and him. Nevertheless, if you let it, American Idiot can give you an impassioned snapshot of a punk growing up.

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