Review of Green Day's American Idiot at Proctors Theatre
by Katie Beltramo
A raucous, passionate, and moving musical, Green Day's "American Idiot" is playing at Proctors Theatre from February 5-7, and you don't have to be a huge Green Day fan to love this energetic portrait of disaffected youth coming of age in the years of George W. Bush's presidency.
As you'd expect from a musical based on the 2004 album labeled with a parental advisory for explicit language, the show is for mature audiences. I'd argue that it's a terrific show for high school students, one that they'd enjoy and that would start some interesting conversations. But since everyone is different, here is a list of some of the parts that might concern you as you determine whether this is a show that would be a good fit for your family. Ready? References to masturbation; multiple f-bombs; drinking and drug use that's pretty explicit, including smoking a bong and shooting up with a needle; the violent impact of war; a suicide; and sex acted out, although with characters that are just scantily clad, not naked. Phew! If I didn't scare you off at masturbation and f-bombs, then it's worth noting that all of these behaviors are put into context that could make it ripe for discussion with adolescents. As the story progresses it is clear that drugs are bad, and the suicide seems more symbolic and stylized than realistic. And as the main character mimes sex, his friend simultaneously demonstrates its consequences just to the side, sitting on a couch next to his hugely pregnant girlfriend looking about as miserable as a young man can look.
The music is awesome, loud and urgent like a concert, sometimes poignant, but always emotionally charged. The band is live on stage and excellent, with plenty of strong vocals from the cast. The lyrics form most of the plot, with brief notes home between songs to round out the story. "American Idiot" captures that angst-filled transition from adolescence to adulthood. Three young men escape from suburbia (or not) and face choices as they try to establish their lives while feeling powerless and lonely and torn between rage and love. In this way it's timeless, but it's also set in a specific historical context from the beginning as the hordes of TVs that make up the set spew both vapid and violent images from the early 21st century. The staging is ingenious, with subtle changes to the set and lighting, especially during the rendition of "Wake Me Up When September Ends." that make a serious emotional impact. The choreography in that scene and throughout is amazing. Dance sequences manage to look entirely natural, with guys and girls posturing, flirting, and fighting, and then exotic and dreamlike in other sequences.
"American Idiot" captures the fear and frustration, love and endless possibility, and rage and insecurity of young adulthood with passion and grace.
"American Idiot" runs about 1 hour, 45 minutes without an intermission, and the Schenectady YMCA offers a Parent Time Out program that you can reserve via Proctors. If your kids are too young, I highly recommend it for a date night.