American Idiot pushes boundaries, provokes

BY MAEVE MCKAIG —

Shorewood Drama presented the Wisconsin premiere of Green Day’s American Idiot for three nearly sold out shows on February 4, 5 and 6.

The energy in the lobby of the Gensler Auditorium was different than typical Shorewood Drama production (but then again, have there been any typical drama productions since the arrival of Joe King, drama director). The atmosphere was a combination of excitement from drama parents looking forward to supporting their kids on or backstage, interest from people who were sort of familiar with Green Day but trusted that Shorewood Drama would put on another great show, anticipation from dedicated punk kids preparing to lip sync every lyric and blissful ignorance from people who had no idea what they were walking into.

The musical tells the story of three boys, Johnny (Graham Hartlaub, senior), Tunny (Zach Lipo Zovic, senior) and Will (Will Sandy, senior) and their attempt to leave suburbia for the big city to try to find meaning in a post 9/11 world controlled by the media and paranoia (“idiot America”). Their story is told through the soundtrack of Green Day’s American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.

I imagine that audience members had very different experiences at the show based on their level of familiarity with Green Day’s music. I walked into the auditorium with those two albums very close to my heart. I spent the week before revisiting them and remembering how I, like so many other people, feel not as alone when Billie Joe Armstrong sings, “There’s nothing wrong with me / This is how I’m supposed to be.” What I enjoyed most about the show was how the cast reflected the emotion packed in those songs with incredible electricity and realness. The first three numbers — “American Idiot,” “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Holiday” — started the show off energetically. With the help of active choreography and a rocking pit band, the ensemble projected an authentic sense of occasionally awkward, but always passionate teenage angst, a feeling we are all familiar with.

IMG_7458
(Shilei Bell-Lipsey) The cast of American Idiot comes together for the accoustic closer, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” The song was a heartfelt conclusion to an impressive show.

In such a high caliber production, there were some especially impressive numbers. (This is where I have to restrain myself from listing every song in the show.) Lipo Zovic sang “Are We The Waiting” exceptionally, making it one of the top vocal performances of the night. After such an emotionally touching song, St. Jimmy, played by Max Pink, sophomore, arrived and gave the energy level a shot in the arm. Pink’s energy and charisma seduced the audience into loving Jimmy, until it was too late to see his bad side. “Give Me Novocaine” and “Last Night On Earth” were both beautifully performed and showcased the amazing set and lighting design. In both numbers, the audience watched multiple story lines unfold on stage. The most impressive number was undoubtedly “Extraordinary Girl,” where Tulsi Shah, sophomore, and Lipo Zovic swung on wires through the air while singing. “Whatsername,” also one of the best vocal performances by Hartlaub and the Usual Suspects, ended the show with a powerful feeling of nostalgia. It could almost be interpreted as a happy ending.

American Idiot is the latest in a series of “progressive” repertoire chosen by the drama department, along with the likes of Spring Awakening and Cabaret. While these amazing productions have given Shorewood Drama, and the Shorewood School District as a whole a reputation of pushing boundaries and challenging students, there are a few aspects of American Idiot that I think walked very close to, and maybe even crossed, “the line.”

As King writes in the director’s note, the show doesn’t necessarily glorify the “adult” content it contains, namely drug abuse, and sex. I cannot stress enough how many important topics American Idiot contains and how well the cast dealt with   them, especially drug use and addiction, which have not been featured in a Shorewood Drama production before. But it makes me wonder whether scenes of heroin use and subsequent addiction acted by — and I don’t mean to be patronizing — teenagers somehow unintentionally belittles the real struggle. The cast approached the task of portraying those scenes in an incredibly mature way, but is it too much to ask students who have (hopefully) never had experience with hard drugs to portray the effects? This is less of a criticism and more of an observation. In the end, American Idiot made me think, which is what good art should do.

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