Rock songs are becoming the new anthems on the Great White Way and, for the most part, to great success.
“Spring Awakening” and “Rent” before that have awakened a whole new form of Broadway musical – one that is filled with rock songs and edgier subject matter.
Presently on Broadway is Green Day’s “American Idiot” which isn’t the smash that had been anticipated. It played to full houses and acclaim when it premiered in the Bay Area, but on Broadway, it plays to only 60% capacity and, although nominated for Best Musical, was shut out of many Tony categories. Pity, as “American idiot” should get more attention.
For some, it might seem like a Green Day songbook as many of the tunes are familiar with the band’s fans as it was a concept album by Green Day before it was a musical. And while the band’s Billie Joe Armstrong is not on stage, he is channeled through the amazing voice of John Gallagher Jr. and the eye makeup of Stark Sands and Michael Esper.
On the plus side, besides the amazing Green Day songs, director Michael Mayer is able to keep the action flowing at a rapid pace. So much so that the show covers a lot of ground and is done in about 90 minutes with no intermission. Also, everyone in the cast is operating at a high octane level, bringing big voices to every tune, most notably Rebecca Naomi Jones.
On the other end of the spectrum, no matter how good the songs and the performances, the show working at its cyclone pace is actually its own worst enemy as the story goes by so fast that it’s hard to be able to care about any of the characters.
“American idiot” plays at New York’s St. James Theatre. To read more, go to http://www.americanidiotonbroadway.com.
There’s a school of rock also playing in New York and can be found at the off-Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
Watching this show, you learn so much about the former president and makes you wonder – if all history was turned into a musical, would we all learn and retain more? Because when you see “Andrew Jackson,” you’re schooled in rock and history – all in 90 minutes as well.
But these 90 minutes don’t seem as rushed as “American idiot.” The story carefully unfolds and follows Andrew Jackson through history.
It starts off hot, with lead actor Benjamin Walker coming on stage and making sure we all see and know how good he looks in his rock-star-tight pants.
Then the story flashes back to the beginnings of Andrew Jackson, and in honest and comic telling, “Andrew Jackson” paints a portrait of one of our founding fathers – not a perfect man but any means, but a memorable one.
Walker as a performer has more successes in the story that seemingly the former president Andrew Jackson. With a great, compelling voice that echoed through the Public Theater, Walker is equally convincing as a leading man as well as a wonderful member of a great comedic team.
Aside from Walker, it’s hard to really find a standout among the small but impressive cast. Everyone sails ahead full throttle, finding every comic nuisance the 18th century story would allow.
And while the songs aren’t as memorable as “American Idiot,” Michael Friedman still manages to create instantly hum-along pop tunes. Friedman has a nice history with the Public Theater, but this is the show that will really make his career.
A lot of the credit to the success of the show should also go to writer/director Alex Timbers, who seems to have a knack for taking seemingly ordinary stories or characters and making them extraordinary. Anyone who can turn the tale of the first printing press “Gutenberg” into a musical deserves your attention.
Unfortunately, the extensions have run out at the Public Theater as “Andrew Jackson” is scheduled to end June 27. Gone – but likely not forgotten as this is an easy transfer to Broadway, in which is should find a larger audience. And there’s talks of that happening.
But just in case it doesn’t move on, get your tickets NOW at www.publictheater.org.