Arts & Culture

Electric energy makes American Idiot a hit

By Hannah Scott

Published 10:29 PST, Fri November 8, 2019

Last Updated: 12:10 PST, Wed November 20, 2019

In Richmond and beyond, Green Day defined much of the 1990s and 2000s for youth.

URP Event Production, in association with the Capilano University Theatre Department, puts on American Idiot this month in North Vancouver. 

In the sung-through rock musical based on Green Day’s 2004 album, political turbulence runs rife. Friends Johnny, Will and Tunny dream of leaving their small town for the big city. 

Originally conceived as a response to post-9/11 America, this production resets its political conflict to Trump’s America. As audience members arrived, a series of increasingly humorous Trump interviews played on a screen onstage.

The lights dimmed and the company began to sing. The energy in the room was unbelievable, and the set and lights were immediate standouts. The scaffolding set allowed the talented band to be visible to audience members. Musical director Rob Hamilton and violinist Caitriona Murphy were highlighted several times throughout the show.

Coloured spotlights were thematically appropriate, but a little aggressive at times. The light-up screen at the back of the stage acted as an American flag and as a hospital heart rate monitor, among other things. 

Johnny, Will and Tunny begin the show together, but their lives take different paths. Johnny (Colin Sheen) travels to the city, becomes addicted to drugs, and has a passionate but volatile romance with a girl he calls ‘Whatsername’ (Ali Watson). His alter ego of sorts, St. Jimmy (Kerry O’Donovan) encourages his addiction. 

Will (Tanner Ford) stays in their small hometown with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Erin Palm), turning to alcohol to numb his boredom. Tunny (Nick Heffelfinger) enlists in the army, injuring himself and falling in love with his nurse (Jenaya Barker).

Sheen, Ford and Heffelfinger have all clearly listened to a lot of Green Day in preparation for their roles. Their biting vocals are reminiscent of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

The ensemble stood out immediately with their jerky, forceful dance moves. The lead actors compelled audiences with their individual storylines.

The strongest moments were high-energy group scenes, particularly songs that paralleled the storylines of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Driven by anger and desperation, increasingly destructive, the men hit rock bottom.

They sing mega-hit Wake Me Up When September Ends onstage together, each playing guitar and lamenting their mistakes. 

Although the Trump video clips set the tone for the show, I found this element to be somewhat lost in the rest of the show. American Idiot is so deeply rooted in early-2000s culture—from its clothes, hair, and makeup to the Green Day album where it gets its roots—that a 2019 version of the same story was hard to wrap my mind around. 

While the lead actors were excellent, the ensemble members were equally talented. Some of them were highlighted in a few songs, and some sang only a line or two solo. There wasn’t a weak link among them.

There were some minor sound issues, but the cast members handled these professionally.

Often used as a prom or graduation song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) served as the show’s encore. Cast members seemed to sing directly to the audience, particularly with the chorus lyric “I hope you had the time of your life.”

If you grew up in the 1990s and 2000s as a Green Day fan, don’t miss this stunning display of Lower Mainland artists. If you didn’t follow the band during their original heyday, but appreciate crisp harmonies and electric energy, this show will still mesmerize you.

American Idiot runs at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver through Nov. 10. Buy tickets at https://tickets.centennialtheatre.com/TheatreManager/1/login?event=1987 or call 604-984-4484.

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