‘American Idiot’ rocks the early aughts at McLean Community Players

A good cast and a rocking score connect the audience in the joyous way that only music can.

McLean Community Players has taken on the rock musical American Idiot for their summer production. The show by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer is based on the Green Day concept album of the same name, released in 2004, and follows three friends in post-9/11 America as they search for meaning and adventure in their otherwise uneventful suburban lives.

The ensemble opens with the title number, “American Idiot,” with a live band conducted by Matthew Scarborough (who also serves as musical director) sitting on a platform upstage. The set is otherwise open with two large steel angled ladders and a large black table that move around the stage, plus a sofa and coffee table set downstage left, which marks the living room and communal hangout spot.

Marcus Barbret, Mike Holland, and Ryan J. Flores in ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Claire Tse.

Costumes are a wide range of grunge, goth, rocker, and every other iteration of cool that lived through the early 2000s (costuming by Juliana Cofrancesco and Carol Pappas). And Gabriella Rojtman’s choreography reflects that blend of angst, rage, and vibing that shaped the disconnected and searching feel of the era.

The trio of buddies — Johnny (Cristian Bustillos), Tunny (Alex Readmond), and Will (Ryan Walker) — are riddled with disgust for mediocrity and a desire to find meaning, and each plays his part well.  In “Jesus of Suburbia,” Bustillos gives Johnny an intensity and unease in his own skin as the guys party and jam to the music.

Readmond’s Tunny expresses his hopeless outlook on life in “City of the Damned,” until Johnny rallies to find something to look forward to with “I Don’t Care.” Readmond was a treat to watch and could easily pass as a heartthrob rock star with a voice perfectly suited for the genre.

Maggie Watts also stands out as Heather, who learns she is pregnant with Will’s baby and beautifully sings the conflicted “Dearly Beloved.” Ultimately causing Walker’s reluctant Will to choose to stay home, despite the group’s bus tickets to the city in “Tales of Another Broken Home.”

Tara Clinton, Ava Minutello, Melanie Kurstin, Ariel Friendly, Marcus Barbret, Maria Valdisera. Jess Rawls, Maggie Watts, and Vanessa Bliss in ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Claire Tse.

Tunny and Johnny load on the bus (represented by the two-story rolling ladder) along with a slew of other frustrated twenty-somethings and start off on their adventure with “Holiday,” as others in the ensemble roll the “bus” to its destination. And all of this in the first 15 minutes of the musical.

Almost entirely sung-through, there is minimal talking with small snippets of dialogue, sometimes in narration from Johnny’s letters home, to mark the passage of time and the progression of events. So the action moves quickly, coherently, and surprisingly, even without much set or conversation to guide the story.

The narrative runs from extreme hopeful highs to rock-bottom lows as Johnny (Bustillos) discovers drugs can give him the illusion of confidence he wants. Mike Holland plays Johnny’s alter-ego St.Jimmy, who seduces the masses with his carefree, drug-addled attitude in “St. Jimmy.”

Meanwhile, Tunny (Readmond) is lured into serving in the military with the promises of glory and success (and attention from women) in “Favorite Son,” sung by the aesthetically pleasing Josh (Ryan Flores) only to be shot and wounded and begging for help in “Give Me Novacaine.”

In a particularly low and fraying sequence, Watts and Walker as Heather and Will grow further apart in “Too Much Too Soon” where their voices blend beautifully, while Tunny lies in a hospital bed recovering from injuries pining over a nurse, who tends to his wounds in “Extraordinary Girl,” sung by the aptly named character Extraordinary Girl (Domenica Pratt) with a lovely voice.

Ava Minutello, Melanie Kurstin, Maggie Watts, Ariel Friendly, Marie Valdisera, Vanessa Bliss, and Jess Rawls in ‘American Idiot.’ Photo by Claire Tse.

Ariel Friendly is great as Whatsername, Johnny’s love interest in the city, whom he eventually abandons for his increasingly dependant need for drugs. Friendly rages with defiance and frustration over his blindness to reality in “Letterbomb,” which is a powerful performance and a highlight of the evening.

With a total of 33 songs in the show, with numbers that overlap and blend together at times, Green Day’s killer sound is rocked out by the orchestra, whose members cannot go unmentioned: Matthew Scarborough on keyboards, James Madar and Robert LaRose on guitar, Annika Michaels on bass, Laura Moniuszko on drums, Rebekah Givens on violin, Tasha Pulvermacher on viola, and Pam Clem on the Cello.

Some of the actors’ voices were hard to hear at times, which could easily be adjusted moving forward, but unfortunately kept a lot of Will’s (Walker) voice from being audible. Still, Walker did a good job with his physicality, and there was no mistaking his lack of interest in his impending fatherhood and his longing for escape.

There were times when the stage felt overcrowded and the choreography was not always in sync. In one number in particular, Extraordinary Girl (Domenica Pratt) tended to Tunny (Readmond) in a wheelchair, while also handling a walker and a stethoscope, and had to push Tunny in the chair offstage while also holding the walker. Pratt handled the exit fine, but the walker seemed distractingly awkward and unnecessary, though that is, yet again, a minor issue easily forgotten.

Critiques aside, overall the ensemble delivered a full blast of energy and dedicated emotion throughout. American Idiot is a true crowd-pleaser aided by the nostalgia of a score that connects the audience in a visceral way.

McLean Community Players has put on a solid production of American Idiot, with a good cast and a rocking score that promises tons of cheers and even allows everyone to sing along in the finale, connecting the cast and the audience in the joyous way that only music can.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

American Idiot plays through July 30, 2023, presented by McLean Community Players, performing at Alden Theater, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean, VA. Tickets ($22.25–$29.85 including fees, with student and senior discounts available) can be purchased online.

The playbill for American Idiot is online here.

COVID Safety: McLean Community Players will follow all current local guidelines on safety requirements for COVID-19 per the CDC and local health authorities.

American Idiot
by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Johnny: Cristian Bustillos; Tunny: Alex Readmond; Will: Ryan Walker; St. Jimmy: Mike Holland; Whatsername: Ariel Friendly; Extraordinary Girl: Domenica Pratt; Heather: Maggie Watts; Theo: Maria Valdisera; Josh: Ryan Flores; Miguel: Marc Barbret; Gerard: Brooke Nyren; Declan: Tara Clinton; Brian: Jessica Sargo; Andre: Ava Minutello; Chase: Karina Yakubisin; Ben: Jess Rawls; Alysha: Melanie Kurstin; Libby: Vanessa Bliss; Leslie: Lindsey Capuno

Production Staff
Producers: Claire Tse, Shaun Moe, Karen Veltri; Director: Kendrick Weingast; Music Director: Matthew Scarborough; Choreographer: Gabriella Rojtman; Stage Manager: Nicholas Boone; Assistant Stage Manager: Jack Laird; Lighting Designer: Reed Simiele; Sound Designer: Adam Parker; Costumers: Juliana Cofrancesco, Carol Pappas; Hair and Makeup: Caroline Scarborough; Set Dressing: Claire Tse, Shaun Moe, Karen Veltri; Props: Natalie Foley, Claire Tse; Construction Team: Shaun Moe, Karen Veltri; Stage Artist: John Kammer; Master Electrician/Light Tech: Ari McSherry; Follow Spot Operator: Shawna Abston; Sound Operators: Claire Tse, Adam Parker; Tech/Production Crew: Adam Newland; House Manager: Bunny Bonnes; Publicity: Cathy Farnsworth; Social Media: Jess Rawls; Photographer: Claire Tse, Playbill Design: Shayne Gardner, Webmaster: George Farnsworth

Matthew Scarborough: Conductor/Keyboards; James Madar: Guitar; Robert LaRose: Guitar; Annika Michaels: Bass; Laura Moniuszko: Drums; Rebekah Givens: Violin; Tasha Pulvermacher: Viola; Pam Clem: Cello


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