Review: 'American Idiot' at Warner Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

'Green Day's American Idiot' is running at lightening speed at the Warner Theatre's Nancy Studio Theatre through next weekend. The Warner Stage Company is the first community theater in Connecticut to present this punk rock opera that is loud, brash, vulgar, exhausting, uplifting...and loud. The dancing is hard and fast, the vocals are rocking and the band could easily go out on tour. I loved every single earsplitting, rage and love filled minute of the seamless 90 minute show.

The sung through musical is based on Green Day's Grammy Award winning seventh album 'American Idiot,' a rock opera inspired by the work of The Who. Some additional material came from their follow up recording '21st Century Breakdown.' The Green Day music features lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and the book was written by Mr. Armstrong and Michael Mayer. A super behind the scenes documentary entitled 'Broadway Idiot' follows Mr. Armstrong from a punk rock concert at Madison Square Garden to the opening of his musical 'American Idiot' on Broadway only ten blocks away. Watching it made me want to see this show immediately, but the touring company's stop at the Palace was during a snowstorm and I missed it. This was the show on the Warner's season that I looked forward to the most and I was not disappointed in the least.

The action focuses on three young men searching for meaning in the world after 9/11. The three fight their own personal wars, literally for one and metaphorically for the other two. It reflects the criticism of the shallow, media saturated culture that was the basis of the original album. The huge set designed by Jameson H. Willey features wooden pallets infused with many working   television sets that showed inventive videos designed by co-director Katherine Ray. It was both busy and stark and although it hid the band very effectively, is probably the best use of the Nancy Marine space that I have ever seen. It definitely was the best place to stage this piece and Ms. Ray and Sharon A. Wilcox have directed it with contemporary and sharp eyes.

Meric Martin was the music director and wailed on the guitar while directing the amazing members of the band seated with him and the string quartet seated on the opposite side of the stage. Despite the seating, the music was seamless. Ms. Wilcox's choreography is probably her best work to date and was an aerobic workout for the young dancers. Think doing sit ups and releasing back to the floor all while singing; it was exhausting for me just to watch and I admired the stamina of the ensemble that was displayed on stage.

Many in this talented young cast were new faces for the Warner that came out simply because they loved the show and every one of them poured their blood, plenty of sweat and some tears into their roles.   Christopher Franci (referred to as Jesus of Suburbia) was a strong singer in the role of the protagonist, the couch wallowing Johnny. Scott Murphy played one of his best friends, the beer swigging Will and Stephen Lenczewski rounded out the trio in the role of the soldier Tunny. All three carried the weighty roles and usually moved around their own furniture pieces as well.

Tony Leone was amazing in the role of the scary St. Jimmy, the part that Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong played on and off on Broadway to the delight of his fans. Mr. Leone gave him a run for his money as the drug dealer who is revealed to be a drug-addled figment of Johnny's imagination. The rest of the men of the Idiot nation included Jesse T. Hunter, Rodney K, Rick Mantell, Noel Roberge and Ruben Soto ('Ragtime.')

The always wonderful Katie Brunetto played Will's pregnant girlfriend Heather and her voice rose on her solo in "Dearly Beloved." Ms. Brunetto often joined the ensemble for their dance numbers as well. Lynn D'Ambrosi was outstanding as Whatsername (as her character is called) who interacts with Johnny and Lauren Jacob was just as strong as Extraordinary Girl, the nurse who cares for Tunny. The women of the ensemble included the super dancers Erica Blasko, Michelle Funaro, Morgan Grambo, Jenna Morin, Rachel Newman, Rachel Perlin, Breanna Riollano and Beverly Rodenberg.

Adding to the experience of this piece was the band playing Green Day classics (probably an oxymoron) as patrons found their seats in the sold out house. I immediately noticed that speakers were placed under the bleachers and Mr. Martin confirmed that the subwoofers had been brought in from the mainstage to pump up the sound. The lighting designed by Mr. Willey was perfect and included a crazy 855 cues in the ninety minutes. Chris LaPlante worked his magic on the sound board and Renee C. Purdy and Jessica Camarero designed the punk-inspired costumes. Because the set included no back stage area, the actors changed in the hallways where the props were stored. 

I didn't recognize all of the musical numbers, but every one of them moved the plot along. I enjoyed the execution of all of my Green Day favorites, like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "21 Guns," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life.)" I will admit that I actually saw one usher offer an older patron a set of earplugs before the show, but he declined. Only two ticket holders left after the second number; clearly the show is not for everybody. The audience was decidedly and refreshingly young for a Sunday matinee.

Tickets for the remaining weekend are limited but are available. I was able to secure one the morning of the matinee for a seat far stage right and I would gladly sit there again. This truly is a show not to be missed by anyone who likes Green Day or cutting edge musicals in the style of 'Hair' and 'Rent;' in my opinion 'American Idiot' is the best of the three and I hope that this is just the first of many productions that will run in CT. I will be there for them all. Congratulations to the Warner Stage Company for being on the cutting edge and for this memorable experience that will be one of the favorite shows of the year. 

Caption: The Warner Theatre Presents:Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT. Photos by Luke Haughwout ©2015