‘American Idiot’ at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center by Amanda Gunther

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This is the dawning of the rest of our lives! The sensational smash-hit two time Tony Award-Winning Broadway Musical American Idiot arrives at Hippodrome Theatre as a part of the Baltimore Broadway series through Broadway Across America. In conjunction with Work Light Productions this epic rock musical brings the pulsing beat of Green Day’s Grammy Award-Winning multi-platinum album to electrifying life on the stage. Directed by Michael Mayer, this modern rock musical has audiences rocking in their seats from beginning to end. Closely following the story of three friends who are trying to find balance in their post 9/11 lives, the musical features well-recognized hits from the album set with stunning choreography, intense on-stage orchestrations, and a vivacious cast of high-spirited performers.

The company of 'American Idiot.' Photo by Litwin.
The company of ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Litwin.

Scenic Designer Christine Jones works in tandem with Lighting Designer Kevin Adams to encompass the atmosphere of a rock concert right in front of the audience’s eyes. Jones’ unique scaffolding and garage-like setting gives the space an authentic concert feel. Blending this design work with Adams’ constant pulsating and flashing light work which synchronizes perfectly to the beat of the music creates a palpable entity of musical euphoria. Jones adds an element of mixed media projection to her design work by layering the walls with several dozen television screens. Video and Projection Designer Darrel Maloney fills these screens with time-sensitive imagery and video footage that enhances the performance with a hint of realism making for one epic show.

Nothing screams rock concert more than the raging violence of mosh pit style dancing. Choreographer Steven Hoggett brings the perfect balance of jagged body thrusting movement to his choreographic layout to infuse that feeling of edgy fury into every dance routine. Major ensemble numbers like “American Idiot” and “City of the Damned” feature full blown body slinging and fierce limb gesturing, a rock spectacle of epic proportions if ever there was one to be seen. Hoggett’s routine for “Letterbomb” transforms the female performers into a pulsating band of venomous creatures in attack formation as they thrust and bust moves in a physical flurry of channeled rage.

Hoggett’s incredibly active style of dance work animates this production tenfold. The beauty of this musical is that you don’t even have to be a fan of Green Day or even familiar with their music to really enjoy the show. The ensemble creates a blast of sound every time they sing, even during the more subdued numbers. Rich songs that are bursting with raw emotion thunder outward to the audience, pulling them into the raging chaos of the story as it unfolds. The title song opens the production and really showcases the “rocker ballad” vocals of everyone in the performance; an enthusiastic upbeat slam of energy pumped singing that blares with flare and sets the tone for the whole show.

Featured male ensemble members take their moments to amp up the show with their incredibly talented grungy voices. Jared Young leads a rebellion with “Favorite Son,” a military style transformation that sends a gripping wave of awe and terror out over the audience. But the real scene stealer is St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders). With a maniacal presence upon the stage Saunders is the epitome of every rock junkie strung out beyond this planet. Blasting his voice for “St. Jimmy” he makes his frenzied persona the main focus. But what makes him truly sensational is his ability to call back the harsh edge from his voice for “Last Night On Earth” making him sound serene in an insane sort of way.

While the story focuses on three male friends, the women that slip in and out of their lives are just as important to the musical efforts as the songs themselves. Three featured women get the chance to prove over and over just how powerful their voices are in the rocking sea of men. Without ever having real names, these three female performers rock pristine harmonies in songs like “21 Guns” each lending their unique sound to the cause of vocal perfection.

Too-Much-Too-Soon Girl (at this performance Alison Morooney) finds herself in quite the predicament with Will early on. Morooney’s rendition of “Dearly Beloved” splits her character in twain, letting us hear both the pure sweet sound of her voice mingled with the pissed and edgy anger of a woman confused. Her ability to transition from fluid solo sounds to raging rocker vocals is impressive. Her pristine sound blends into four part harmony for the quartet of “Last Night On Earth” and it is pure ecstasy to hear.

Adding the secondary female voice to that quartet is Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma). As the stereotypical badass chick who shacks up with Jimmy right away, DiPalma surprises the audience with dulcet tones of her own as backup harmony in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Featured as the lead vocalist for “Letterbomb” her voice erupts with the fury of a thousand scorned women, creating a sharp contrast to her earlier more mellow sound; a fierce combination to bring to the stage.

The sweetest and least edgy voice comes from The Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubaii). Featured as the assuaging presence to Tunny during difficult times, Rubaii not only gets to let her voice glide through her character’s title song “Extraordinary Girl” but she gets to showcase her aerial abilities as she and Tunny (at this performance Dustin Harris Smith) fly through the air performing dazzling and hypnotic acrobatics. Her voice is not dominated by the angry emotions of an emo rocker girl but it is definitely dynamite.

Smith as Tunny brings a unique sound to the trio of guys during numbers like “I Don’t Care” and “City of the Damned.” Smith brings a blend of emotions, racing through curiosity, confusion, hope, and hesitation during “Are We The Waiting.” His performance is underscored with subtle solemnity and grave sorrow, each feeling punctuated with his pitch perfect notes. The harmonies he provides for “Wake Me Up When September Ends” are truly astonishing.

Taking on the couch-surfer role is Will (Casey O’Farrell). With the emo rocker look perfected, O’Farrell jams a harsh duo with Jimmy (Alex Nee) for “Jesus of Suburbia.” He brings the perfect balance of apathetic anger and deep meaningful soul to the songs he sings; a contradictory juxtaposition of the two men battling for dominance in his character; a man who cares with such a strongly bleeding heart that he can only express it in bitter outrages of indifferent fury. O’Farrell’s voice possesses an angelic quality for “Give Me Novacaine” a song that is both serenely enchanting and woefully haunting.

Jenna Rubaii (The Extraordinary Girl) and Thomas Hettrick (Tunny) in 'American Idiot.' Photo by John Daughtry.
Jenna Rubaii (The Extraordinary Girl) and Thomas Hettrick (Tunny) in ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by John Daughtry.

And then there’s Jimmy (Alex Nee). The bitter character with an ax to grind, chip on his shoulder, and a world of pent up frustrations that he just cannot wait to let loose into song. Nee does a superb job of embodying the lead vocalist position; each song more impressive than the one before it. His total badass physicality when wailing on both the air guitar and the real guitar are beyond compare. The intensity with which he performs songs like “I Don’t Care” and “Holiday” is shocking, sending a wave of fury out to all that are listening. Tempering his riled up and rebellious side with a more tender tone, Nee shifts into a phenomenal acoustic rendition of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” – two of the biggest hits from the album. His ability to vocally transcend the words, filling them with deep and powerful emotions is nothing short of astonishing. And watching his character spiral out of control is maddening and harrowing all at the same time. An incredible performer with so much to offer to this production, Nee is the epitome of Green Day perfected.

So don’t be an American Idiot by missing this amazing sensation before it leaves town!

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

American Idiot plays through Sunday May 12, 2013 at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.

LINK 
American Idiot website.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.