The label “rock opera” has been appended to many shows in recent decades, but not until now, with The Hypocrites powering their way into the amped-up soul of Green Day’s punk rock opus, “American Idiot,” has that term felt fully authentic.
Blissfully freed from the show’s heavy-handed, cliche-ridden original Broadway version that left me totally cold — and staged in the far more intimate, rough-and-tumble storefront environment of the Den Theatre, with a young, diverse, wildly talented cast whose explosive energy is all but off the scales — “American Idiot” feels precisely as raw, real, reckless and angry as it should.
Under Steven Wilson’s galvanic direction — with hypnotic choreography by Katie Spelman that channels the best of such masters as Steven Hoggett (“Blackwatch”) and Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening”), and fearsome musical direction by Andra Velis Simon that suggests the whole thing is unspooling at CBGB’s — there is such a sense of alienation and honesty at work here that you can feel the growing pains of the show’s early twentysomething characters in all their feverish intensity.
When: Through Oct. 25
Where: The Hypocrites at
The Den Theatre, 1329 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $28 – $36
Run time: 95 minutes, with no intermission
Three pals hellbent on bursting out of their safe suburban nests and their 7-Eleven hangout plan to head to New York and into the post-September 11, 2001 world.
Johnny (a spot-on portrayal by Luke Linsteadt) is the self-styled guitarist full of rebellion and destruction who ends up with a drug habit and a stunning girlfriend, Whatshername (a sexy, starry turn by Krystal Worrell), he can’t fully appreciate. The specter of addiction is brilliantly embodied by the asexual St. Jimmy — a pusher here played by Malic White, a petite transgender figure with a red Mohawk whose insinuating presence captures the very essence of heroin’s allure.
Tunny (the clarion-voiced Steve Perkins), who can’t find his place in the city, is seduced into enlisting in the U.S. Army. He ends up losing a leg in the Iraq war, and engages in a fantasy romance with Extraordinary Girl (the formidable Becca Brown) from his hospital bed. As for Will (Jay W. Cullen), he never makes the trip to New York. “Trapped” at home after his girlfriend, Heather (Alex Madda), announces she is pregnant, he turns to alcohol, and she eventually turns to another guy.
Based on punk rock band Green Day’s Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum album of the same name, The Hypocrites’ production of “American Idiot” features a cast and band that is completely fused throughout, with nearly every performer, at one moment or another, picking up a guitar or violin, or playing keyboard. A particularly winning moment finds an all-girl band taking shape (to joyful applause). Among the hits are “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “21 Guns,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Holiday” and the title track. Unfortunately, the song list is missing from the program — a pet peeve of mine these days.
0The lyrics are not always completely discernible, but the emotional fury never flags, with the ensemble of 18 forming a seamless ensemble that is in perpetual motion, using a gestural language that capture every pent-up emotion.
With its chain link fencing, graffiti and an overall sense of grunge Joe Schermoly’s set (vividly lit by Heather Gilbert), ideally captures the time and place. Mieka van der Ploeg’s distressed costumes are punk perfection. And Rick Sims’s sound design, so crucial here, is ideal.
It is worth recalling that The Hypocrites recently produced the daylong epic of Greek plays, “All Our Tragic,” as well as a zany trio of reimagined Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. No further proof is needed that there is almost nothing this company cannot make its own.