Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some Thoughts on American Idiot

If you've been reading this blog, or following me on Twitter, you know that I've been pretty excited about American Idiot, if a little apprehensive. I finally saw the show on Friday evening and I was not disappointed. This isn't going to be a traditional review, but I do want to explore a few of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much.

I was speaking to Steve On Broadway about the show, and he made the very good point that a Broadway musical, especially one as polished as this one, is the antithesis of punk, and I do agree with him, but I'm not that interested in whether it's truly punk, but whether it succeeds as a musical. On the basis that I was entertained from start to finish, I say it does.

It has more of a plot than I expected. Johnny (John Gallgher Jr.) is bored with his life and leaves town on a Greyhound with his friend Tunny (Stark Sands). Their friend Will (Michael Esper) is forced to stay home when he finds out his girlfriend (Mary Faber) is pregnant. Johnny turns to drugs, pushed on him by St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) while Tunny joins the army. In the end, they return home, basically reverting back to their old lives. There isn't much room for character development, but for a show about American idiots, it's pretty fitting that they end up where they started.

Visually, the show is stunning. Christine Jones' set seems to reach the heavens with TV screens (Darrel Maloney provides the video), newspaper clippings, and advertisements. Shopping carts float in the air. The spastic choreography is a thrill to watch, as are the energetic performances by the entire cast. And of course there is the music. There is very little dialogue, so Green Day's aggressive and occasionally (dare I say) beautiful score takes center stage. Sands and Esper are vocal standouts.

The biggest misstep in the production occurs after the curtain call when the cast members grab guitars for an encore--"Good Riddance." It's a cheesy move and also undermines the show by telling us we should have had the time of our lives. Why not let the show speak for itself?

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Bloody Good Time

If you're looking for an inexpensive, entertaining musical and don't mind getting a little blood splashed on you, look no further than Bloodsong of Love: A Rock and Roll Spaghetti Musical by Joe Iconis, playing at Ars Nova through May 9.

The protagonist, known as The Musician (a dashing Eric William Morris), falls in love with Santa Violetta (MK Lawson), only to have her taken from him by Lo Cocodrilo (Jeremy Morse). The musical follows him on his journey to get her back, but the heart of the story is the bromance between The Musician and his childlike friend Banana (a scene-stealing Lance Rubin). The whole cast is not only strong in the vocal department, but fully committed to whatever zaniness is required.

I was frankly underwhelmed with other Iconis shows I've seen, Rewrite and Things To Ruin, but I finally see why he is considered such a promising musical theater composer. The score is catchy, so much so that my friend and I were humming it as we left the theater, which seems to be a rarity these days. As funny as the book scenes are, sometimes less is more, especially in a show as silly as this one. The show would be stronger at a tight 90 minutes with no intermission (it currently runs about two hours and ten minutes including intermission).

Set designer Michael Schweikardt makes excellent use of the small space, cleverly incorporating a moving walkway. The costumes by Michelle Eden Humphrey are simple, yet effective, especially small touches like a snake belt for Lo Cocodrilo and Where's Waldo boxers for Banana.

Tickets cost only $25 but for bargain hunters, the splatter zone seats are $15. Ponchos are provided to shelter you from the bloodbath.

Photo credit: Peter James Zielinski

Monday, April 05, 2010

Met's Hamlet Is A Piece Of Work

I was thrilled when I received an invitation to see Hamlet at the Metropolitan Opera. I must admit that I don't see as much as opera as I'd like and I'd never even been to the Met. I think Hamlet is a good starter opera--though not particularly well-known, it's easy to follow if you're familiar with the play.

The French opera by Ambroise Thomas has not been seen at the Met in 113 years. Though a few liberties are taken with Shakespeare's play, it's still pretty much intact--the ghost of Hamlet's father wants Hamlet to avenge his murder. I've read that the score is not considered the best, but to these inexperienced ears, I found the music engaging and very appropriate to the story.

Simon Keenlyside delivers a captivating performance as Hamlet and he is evenly matched by Marlis Petersen, a last minute replacement for Natalie Dessay, as Ophelie. Her mad scene is as strong as any I've seen. The other standout is Toby Spence as Laƫrte. Though he appears in only a few scenes, he commands the stage whenever on.

My only complaint is Christian Fenouillat's boring sets, which was basically walls moving about the stage. I would have preferred something more opulent for my first visit to the Met, but no matter, I'm sure I'll be back.

There are two more performances of Hamlet, tonight and Friday at 8 p.m.