.‘American Idiot’ Wows Audienceat the Montgomery Theater

ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR: Every cast member in CMT’s production of ‘American Idiot’ learned to play the guitar for the show’s rousing finale Photograph by Jeffrey Peters

While another take on the 2009 Green Day-penned punk-rock musical, American Idiot, may seem like old wine in a new bottle, the latest production by CMT San Jose is definitely a unique vintage.

For starters, it’s a children’s version of the Tony Award-winning musical, and no one in the cast is over 20 years old. It is also the first non-professional performance of the show, something director Kevin Hauge is particularly excited about. “It will really be a beautiful production to put in front of our audiences,” he says.

And it is. The set design is impressive, consisting of a multi-storied frame that can be moved and reassembled during the show, with every other surface covered in screens—each blasting video loops of a distorted America. Two skate ramps stand on either side of the stage. With the set taking up much of the vertical space, it almost looks like middle school version of Rent.

American Idiot centers on three alienated teens—Johnny (Andy Turner), Tunny (Dean Marchant), and Will (Shawn Clifford)—as each grows tired of adolescence and seeks change from suburban life. While Will is left to face the reality of a pregnant girlfriend (played by Cristina Oeschger), Johnny and Tunny move on as fast as possible. The former’s heartbreak sends him spiraling into addiction; the latter ships off to war.

The cast is composed mostly of teenagers, and, as such, is not technically a “professional” production. But it still wows. The singing of the girls—notably Oeschger and Katherine Hauge (as Whatsername)—really stands out, adding a polished sheen to an already superb show.

With some crude language, and portrayals of sex and drugs, American Idiot is more adult than most musicals. But any risque content is also key to the success of the show—and never seems out of the place in the rebellious narrative even as it comes from the mouths of babes.

With more than 30 ensemble members, sometimes the show feels rushed, but it’s easy to look past, especially given the size and sophistication of each scene. While many ambitious, modern musicals have a tendency to meander—even get lost—in the interplay of the characters’ emotions and actions, American Idiot is saved by its roots as a Green Day concept album. The material naturally lends itself to the rock opera format. As such, wherever exposition of plot or character is lacking, the fast-paced, pop-punk steps in to lead the audience along. Factor in the meticulous organization of CMT San Jose, a stunning set design and the impressive talents of the young cast, and you have all of the ingredients for an explosive show.

American Idiot

Jul 31-Aug 2, $24

Montgomery Theater

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