Chuck Darrow:

JOHN DAUGHTRY Alex Nee (left) and Trent Saunders in "American Idiot."
JOHN DAUGHTRY Alex Nee (left) and Trent Saunders in "American Idiot."
Posted: February 14, 2013

"AMERICAN IDIOT," the Broadway smash conjured from Green Day's 2004 punk-pop concept album of the same name, is definitely not for those uncomfortable with deviations from the traditional musical-theater blueprint.

There's the amped-up score rendered faithfully by a five-piece onstage rock band. And "Idiot" boasts only a few spoken lines, while the songs are more about attitude than exposition. There is a story to be gleaned here, but it fights for the spotlight with an overriding nihilistic viewpoint.

The main characters in "Idiot," making its local debut through Sunday at the Merriam Theater, are angry, rudderless suburban teens circa the mid-2000s. We know this from the series of (mostly) appropriately angry reactions to their circumstances, which don't improve once they get to the big, wicked city.

"Idiot" has little humor, and what there is, it's dark. And the promiscuous use of everyone's favorite Anglo-Saxon curse word coarsens the piece and amplifies its bleakness.

All of this puts "Idiot" in danger of being little more than a millennial-generation pity party. But that's prevented by the show's atomic-powered execution upon a stylized, video-screened stage.

Whether lamenting their characters' hopeless lives or animating the Merriam stage with Steven Hoggett's loose-limbed, hair-on-fire choreography, the youthful cast, guided by Michael Mayer's sure-handed direction, delivers the goods.

Leading the way is Alex Nee, whose Johnny is a perfect blend of simmering contempt, unfocused anger and lost-soul vulnerability.

"American Idiot" isn't the most pleasant of theater evenings, but it provides rewards to those willing to accept it on its own terms.


Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St., 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, $20-$100, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.


On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes.

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