‘American Idiot’ at Little Butterfly Theatre Company’s at 1st Stage

Green Day’s American Idiot is getting staged by a group of teens and twenty-somethings in a warehouse near Tysons and it is hot, hot, hot!

Jack Posey (Tunny). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Jack Posey (Tunny). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Go for the punk rock, stay for the vocal harmonies, savor the heartwrenching string section and let your eyes linger on the beautiful, powerful dancing.

Directed by Amy Poe and choreographed by 18-year-old Marielle Burt, the musical has lyrics by Green Day lead guitarist and vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong and book by Bethesda’s own Michael Meyer. It is a rockin’ show with music direction by Walter “Bobby” McCoy that achingly portrays urban angst, which we used to call itchy feet. This is for anyone who has ever had a dream of becoming something bigger or better . . . and for everyone who has tried and failed at life, at love, at war, at death or maybe even just guitar.

Three young men struggle to break free from their boring suburban confines. Johnny (Ben Ribler), wants to go to the city. Tunny (Jack Posey), is enticed by the military. And Will, (Carlos Castillo), doesn’t get a chance to do either.

The musical includes every song from Green Day’s multiple grammy-winning album of the same name and a few from its follow-up album, 21st Century Breakdown, including “Know Your Enemy,” the first to top Billboard’s rock, alternative, and mainstream charts at the same time. And with Green Day recently being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the music appeals not just to the millennials whose post-9/11 world it describes but to those of us like me for whom Hair was an anthem.

It’s fun to sit in the stadium seats and watch the soundtrack of a generation as optimistic as mine was enacted by these lithe, high-energy dancers and deeply expressive singers.

Nicole Sheehan (Whatsername) and Ben Ribler (Johnny). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Nicole Sheehan (Whatsername) and Ben Ribler (Johnny). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Ribler portrays Johnny as a boy-next-door type who gets manic when he moves to the city and hangs around with his alter-ego, Saint Jimmy (the handsome Ben Peter), who might be nothing more than a drug-induced vision, and with his love interest, Whatsername (Nicole Sheehan, whose voice is a tonic for what ails you).

Meanwhile, Posey’s own warm vocals add nuance to his ultra-intense portrayal of Tunny, who has joined the military and is having a fever-dream of his own as he dances with Extraordinary Girl (Kyra Smith) in what can only be called a uniquely American sort of gymnastic tango with Middle Eastern flair.

Carlos Castillo (Will). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Carlos Castillo (Will). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Castillo portrays Will as a down-and-out but somehow endearing loser as he opts not to go to the city or join the military but to stay home with girlfriend on-the-move Heather (Lily Lord, whose singing is strong, sweet and pure).

Levi Meerovich portrays the Favorite Son, who inducts Tunny into the Army in a hilarious number “Favorite Son,” which morphs into the powerful “We are the Waiting” by the talented ensemble: Leo Grandinetti, Erik McIntosh, Tyler King, Jamie Green, Christophe Jelinski, Marcia Cunning, Kathy Oh, Emma Gold, Nikki Amico, and Abby Huston.

Lily Lord (Heather) with Levi Meerovich (center) and Ben Ribler (right) . Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Lily Lord (Heather) with Levi Meerovich (Favorite Son) (center) and Ben Ribler (Johnny) (right) . Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

The gritty two-story set by Ben French, Joe Miller, and David Nguyen features swinging glass doors and does triple duty as a 7-11 storefront, apartment building, and nightclub–not to mention a great surface for projections. The set features a stow-away mechanized rolling wagon that glides out to deliver a bed for the more intimate scenes.

Costumes conceived by former off-Broadway actress Kim Allen-Mills and realized by a large team led by Yvonne French that included tailor Juliana Cofrancesco showcases haute punk styles in the opening numbers and more downtrodden looks for the denouement.

Sydney Studds employed the new gender-bending looks for makeup (feminine for men, tough for women) and devised curly locks, sleek ponies, high buns and and colorful hair extensions that really added a pop.

Lights by Jared and Ian Jacknow track the rise and fall of the story right down to the ending in which the entire 19-person cast plays acoustic guitars.

Splashy projections are designed by Riki Kim of Synetic Theatre along with Kate Callahan make the experience immersive while also commenting on—and drawing you in to—the action.

Sound by Aaron Fensterheim, Max Speil, and the Jacknow brothers builds and builds as the live on-stage orchestra swells and the vocals reach a crescendo so rocking that you don’t think they can get any stronger . . . and then they do.

Leo Grandinetti atop a dumpster. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Leo Grandinetti atop a dumpster. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Little Butterfly Theatre Company’s astounding American Idiot is a physical, vocal, and technical marvel. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

American Idiot plays through this Sunday at Little Butterfly Theatre Company performing at at 1st Stage – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in Tysons, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif


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