‘American Idiot’ teaches a tough societal lesson

By on July 27, 2016

“Welcome to a new kind of tension. / All across the alienation. / Where everything isn’t meant to be okay. / Television dreams of tomorrow. / We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow. / For that’s enough to argue.” – Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

According to Merriam-Webster — American: a person born, raised, or living in the U.S. Idiot: a very stupid or foolish person.

The song “American Idiot” was released in 2004 by the popular punk band Green Day and received Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Rock Song, and Best Music Video Grammy nominations. It was the title track for the band’s seventh album.

“American Idiot,” the musical production, opened at EPAC on Thursday, July 21, to a nearly sold out audience. Expectations were great as people buzzed about the show online and at local gathering spots, and EPAC did not fail to deliver.

“American Idiot” follows the lives of three young men, best friends, caught up in a pre-9/11 world, not knowing where life will take them. Johnny (Sean Deffley), who is mostly the main character, loses himself in the drug culture of heroin — which is personified by St. Jimmy (Justin Monick). He loses love, Whatshername (Heidi Carletti), but also comes to grips with the person he has become, and does not like.

Will (Adam Dienner) stays back in his hometown and falls into a drug and alcohol infused depression after learning his girlfriend, Heather (Sydne Lyons), is pregnant with his child. The two split, and Heather goes on to lead a charmed life after meeting a new man. Tunny (Jessie Hoffman) goes to the big city with Johnny, but decides to enlist in the Army. He is sent off to war where he sustains an injury resulting in the loss of his leg. During his rehab he falls in love with his nurse, The Extraordinary Girl (Alyssa Dienner), who accompanies him home. Completing the cast was Seth Walker, who played Favorite Son and Joshua.

After all their trials and tribulations, the three return to their hometown in celebration of a life where they have learned to value its existence and not take for granted the little things that make them unique.

You don’t have to be a Green Day fan to enjoy “American Idiot,” but it sure does help. (I ran into my friend Courtenay DeLaney on opening and she wore a Green Day t-shirt!) The show, like the music, connects with a generation — that group of folks at the cusp of Generation X, but too old to be Millennials — but its narrative is universal. Pain. Love. Decisions. Friendships.

Almost the entire story is driven by song. “American Idiot” includes 30 musical numbers, including the entire “American Idiot” album and a few new songs by the band.

Speaking of bands, I would be remiss if I did not give props to the 1.21 Band who provided the musical backdrop for the show. Adam Nicodemus (drums), Jay McElroy (guitar), James Lipka (guitar), and Mark Pontz (bass), showed a lot of talent and hard work. They were one of the most impressive parts of the show.

(Left to right) Adam Dienner, Sean Deffley, and Jessie Hoffman, star in EPAC’s “American Idiot.”

(Left to right) Adam Dienner, Sean Deffley, and Jessie Hoffman, star in EPAC’s “American Idiot.”

The original Broadway production won a Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Musical, and EPAC surely considered this as a challenge. To say the Sharadin Bigler Theatre housed additional lighting for this show would be a huge understatement. I got a sneak preview of the set while picking up my son and daughter from Center Stage Summer Theatre Camp the week before opening night, and I immediately noticed a ton of new lighting. Come opening night, lighting designer Jeff Cusano and his crew had installed a series of light bars, which added emphasis and mood to many musical numbers.

Hats off to choreographer/assistant director Kristen Pontz, who helped produce a show that is part dancing, cheerleading, and acrobatics.

The production incorporated a fog machine, which was totally unnecessary when the smokin’ Carletti was on stage. Her performance was so good it made people feel uncomfortable! She took Whatshername to another level, and only by lack of stage time did she not steal the show.

Monick devoted himself fully to his role as St. Jimmy, leaping and flying about the stage, and even injuring himself during rehearsal. During one part of the show, St. Jimmy is defeated and “buried” through a trap door. He landed wrong going through the trap door and ended up at the hospital with a sprained wrist.

I wasn’t really familiar with the show before seeing EPAC’s rendition. I’d read enough about it to know the F-bomb gets dropped way too often to take the kids. There are some rough scenes. Musically, missing was “Basket Case,” one of my favorite Green Day songs. It’s an anthem for artists and those who do not fit into the social norm. Now that I think of it, “When I come Around” doesn’t make an appearance either. Maybe there just wasn’t room in the storyline for these songs, but it was a bummer not to hear this band and cast give them a go. The song “American Idiot” has been running through my head ever since seeing the show. I forgot how good this song is; it rocks, speaks, and teaches a tough societal lesson — just like the show.

All in all, EPAC’s “American Idiot” is a rocking and bright display of what it means to be human. Directed by EPAC veteran Rich Repkoe, the 90-minute cavalcade of sound is a rollercoaster of emotions, both highlighting the human spirit and shining light on the worst we can potentially become.

The show runs through Aug. 6. Purchase tickets to “American Idiot” at ephrataperformingartscenter.com, or by calling 733-7966.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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