The U of O’s Musical Theatre Society rocked campus last weekend with their punky production of American Idiot.
UOMTS president and fourth year Criminology student Storm Davis, who directed the show, says he wanted to mount a production “that had a good social commentary.”
American Idiot, a 2010 stage adaptation of the Green Day album of the same name, focuses on a listless young man named Johnny who escapes suburbia to chase a life of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
The narcissistic Johnny can be difficult to like, but actor Patrick Teed, who is in his fourth year of Philosophy and Political Science at U of O, imbues the character with an appealing touch of self-deprecation.
A long-time Green Day fan, Teed recalls saving up his allowance to buy the original album when it came out. “American Idiot was the first CD I owned,” he notes.
Getting the chance to play Johnny in the stage adaptation was “pretty wild,” Teed says, adding that his familiarity with the source material initially made it difficult to get into character: “I came in wanting to recreate the Green Day music, and I had to slowly kind of realize that, ‘No, there’s actually a character here, and a story here, that’s separate from and independent from the album.’”
Johnny’s self-destructive urges are personified by his alter ego St. Jimmy, played with manic energy and leering menace by Cameron Jones. There’s a toxic chemistry between the two characters – a simultaneous attraction and revulsion heightened by Davis’ emotive choreography.
Translating punk rock to the theatre stage is a daunting task. Davis, who acknowledges that he’s “in no way a punk master,” says he focused on using “the images and the dancing in the show to tell the story.”
Teed rejects the notion of tension between punk rock and musical theatre. “There have always been these historical moments where people play with what the musical theatre genre looks like,” he explains, calling American Idiot “a natural progression.”
With grungy costumes, a live band, and a sparse set, the show captures the punk vibe as well as (or better than) the original album. Davis’ tight but idiosyncratic choreography channels a mosh pit without denigrating the dancers’ technical skills, while complementing the subversive lyrics.
Teed’s favourite part of the show is Justice Tremblay’s performance of “Letterbomb,” which he calls, “an amazing moment of catharsis.” The scene takes place immediately after Johnny assaults his girlfriend (Whatsername, played by Tremblay) who proceeds to verbally eviscerate him.
“That moment is so exceptionally performed by Justice,” Teed says, adding, “I’m really glad that Whatsername is able to not just escape [her violent relationship], but almost reclaim the moment – it’s just really powerful.”
Davis also singles out this “renegade number” as a highlight, citing its “empowering” message “that this is who women can be, and this is how they deserve to treat people who treat them poorly.”
Davis believes that American Idiot’s themes of “marginalization [and] stigmatization” contribute to its continued relevance.
Dealing with dark themes such as addiction, depression and domestic abuse, the UOMTS’s version of American Idiot is both a bitter political screed and a testament to the importance of friendship and solidarity. For Green Day fans, it’s also a nostalgic walk down the boulevard of broken dreams.
UOMTS Presents: American Idiot ran from January 20 – 22 at the U of O Academic Hall.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as UOMTS Presents American Idiot; Jan 24/2017