Review: ‘American Idiot’ at Act Two @ Levine by Laura Marshall

Great punk music paired with edgy, mature performances and soaring orchestration rocked the house in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage last weekend.

The cast of 'American Idiot.' Photo by Carmelita Watkinson
The cast of ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Carmelita Watkinson

The pre-professional program from Act Two @ Levine, filled with high school aged performers, presented Green Day’s American Idiot on January 15-17th. Directed by Kevin Kuchar, the musical is an adaption of a concept album created by the punk rock band Green Day in the post-9/11 era; dealing with the dissatisfaction of today’s youth in suburbia and their desire to find new meaning in their lives. The book of the Tony Award-winning show was written by Michael Mayer and Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong. The music, originally from Green Day’s American Idiot album (as well as a few from 21st Century Breakdown) was written by Green Day, with lyrics by Armstrong. Tom Kitt, of Next to Normal and If/Then fame, wrote additional arrangements and orchestration.

The show begins with three characters, Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso), Will (Danny G.W.) and Tunny (Leo Scheck) expressing growing dissatisfaction with their mundane, suburban lives, frustration with parental restrictions and hopes of escaping “Jingletown.” Johnny and Tunny decide to depart for greater adventures; while Will opts to stay behind to support his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Julia Bratburd). When reaching the big city, Tunny enlists in the military and Johnny begins a downward spiral into drugs and depression.  Johnny begins a relationship with alter-ego drug dealer, St. Jimmy (Peter Ely), and finds comfort in the arms of a woman called Whatsername (Paige Cilluffo). While Tunny is serving in the Middle East he is injured and develops a sometimes dream-infused bond with a nurse called Extraordinary Girl (Maddie Rinehart). In the end, Johnny and Tunny return to Jingletown with changed perspectives and reunite with Will.

Act Two at Levine had some roles double-cast in their production; we saw the cast that performed at the final performance on Sunday, January 17, 2016.  The thumping punk music was beautifully directed by Josephine Riggs and showcased the angst and urgency of the songs. The hard-rocking accompaniment never overwhelmed the actors’ voices in this largely sung-through work. Vocally each of the performers ably tackled this very challenging music style; laced with tight harmonies, shouts and quiet moments as well.

The ensemble stood out vocally in the antiphonal performance of “21 Guns” when they came into the aisles and encircled the audience. The choreography was high-energy and athletic; while relying heavily on running on and off the stage.

Sebastian Lawrence Amoruso (Johnny). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.
Sebastian Lawrence Amoruso (Johnny). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Sebastian Amoruso, in the demanding role of Johnny, showed extraordinary range with his vocals, acting skills and guitar playing. His moody portrayal of the emotionally evolving youth was balanced with a soaring tenor that could handle punk-edged songs, as well as thoughtful ballads. He and Paige Cilluffo, as Whatsername, had a magnetic and occasionally intimate connection. Cilluffo’s robust vocals were shown best during the girl-power anthem “Letterbomb.” Peter Ely’s portrayal of St. Jimmy was vocally compelling and sinister, while he teased Johnny with the drug-filled underbelly of society.

The sparse, yet effective, set was highlighted by the strategic use of both large and small-scale projections.

The clever use of a moving toilet brought the unplanned pregnancy storyline to the forefront for Julia Bratburd and Danny G.W., portraying Heather and Will. Danny G.W.’s twitchy, pill-popping performance as Will was balanced by the heartbreaking struggle of teen mother Heather. Their volatile, and sometimes abusive, relationship was underscored in the charged performance of “Too Much Too Soon.”

Tunny, portrayed with gusto by Scheck, was seduced into the military by Favorite Son, Trevor Band, and his troupe of star-spangled dancers. While serving in military Tunny was injured in combat and finds solace in a fever-filled musical/dance sequence, featuring an ensemble of Middle Eastern garbed dancers during the song Extraordinary Girl, set in a hospital.

The cast of 'American Idiot.' Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.
The cast of ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Ian Band.

Act Two produced an energized production, which artfully immersed the audience into the gritty, darker side of today’s youth with poignancy and punk aplomb.  

American Idiot played from January 15-17, 2016 at Act Two @ Levine performing at Arena Stage- 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For future performances, go to their website.

Laura Marshall is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and has a degree in Journalism; with an emphasis in Advertising. She has been active in the Northern Virginia theater community since 2006 and is the past-President of Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre.


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