Last week the second national tour of American Idiot made their short stop in Nashville at TPAC. In what I found to be an odd decision, the show was only there for three days (Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday) in the middle of the week.
Being the “Idiot” that I am, I ended up with tickets for all three performances, and took the week off work so that I could be there. I wanted to support the show, see what the new cast was like, and add to my “Idiot” ticket collection.
I also understand that I really, really loved both the Broadway cast and the cast of the first national tour. Before I saw the first national tour of American Idiot, I was paranoid. I couldn’t see how they could top the Broadway cast that I came to love so much. I went into that first show very wary of what was coming. I was not only pleasantly surprised by what happened, I came to ADORE the first national tour cast and put a lot of time and money into traveling to see the show in the first half of last year.
Everyone told me there was no way that I would like this tour because I was biased to the first national tour cast. While I wondered if it were true, I wanted to give this cast an honest chance. I kept reminding myself that I was just as worried when the first tour cast came around and ended up loving the show.
As I sat in the very back row of TPAC and waited for the show to start my heart began to pound. I was so excited. It had been 240 days since I’d last seen American Idiot. I missed my show. I missed the emotions that it invoked in me. I missed the rage and love. When the curtain came up and the show started it was apparent almost immediately that this wasn’t what I’d known before.
This review is going to be of all three nights, and I’ll be more specific if I need to be. For those who don’t know the story (you read my blog and you DON’T know??), American Idiot is the tale of three friends who grow up in suburbia and do their best to escape their small town life. Set at the turn of this century, with 9/11 and the time surrounding it as the backdrop, the characters are stuck in a place where they don’t know what they want or believe. Each of the friends ends up taking a different path with different results. We watch their paths as they grow apart, grow up, and come back together.
There are a few shining stars in the cast. The role of Heather, a girl who finds herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, was played on Tuesday and Wednesday by understudy Chelsea Turbin. She was such a bright point in the night. Vocally, she’s one of the best on stage, in my opinion. On Thursday night, Kennedy Caughell was back in her role as Heather. That night my friends and I had scored seats on the second row, so I was really able to see her acting and I have to say I was blown away with how much I felt like she fleshed out the character of Heather, even with no lines. Her physical acting told you everything you needed to know that was going on with that character.
Casey O’Farrell played slacker Will who ends up stuck in his hometown after finding out his girlfriend Heather is expecting. It was nice to see a Nashville native on the TPAC stage. O’Farrell was one of the more talented actors on stage, though there is little acting for Will to actually do. I always feel like that actor doesn’t get to fully realize the character because he basically just sits on the couch and gets high for the entire show. That being said, there were some AMAZING couch shenanigans going on Thursday night with Will and two of his friends. Anytime you can sit close and watch stuff like that happen is fun. I really enjoyed that part of the show.
Alex Nee played Johnny (a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia) who leaves his home, finds the love of his life, gets hooked on heroin, and loses his girl before returning home. There were some times that I thought Nee had made some hilarious acting choices for the character of Johnny. Enough to make myself and my friend laugh loudly. In many ways he chose to act the character much in the same way that former Johnny, Van Hughes did. May of the same little mannerisms and quirks were there, but Nee still did his own thing enough that I appreciated it.
Johnny’s lady love, only known as Whatsername, was played by Alyssa DiPalma. I love that character and I always look forward to seeing what people make out of it. I thought DiPalma did a good job and I liked some of the costuming changes that I noticed. And then some I was a little confused by, but I’m not the costume designer, so whatever. I just don’t think I’d ever seen a Whatsername with so little clothing! Still, DiPalma did a wonderful job and was a real standout during the rousing anthem “Letterbomb.”
Tommy Hettrick played Tunny, a friend who leaves town with Johnny and ends up joining the military. Tunny is injured in battle and ends up meeting a woman (his military nurse) that we know as Extraordinary Girl. Extraordinary Girl was played by Jeanna Rubaii. Rubaii was a vocal standout during the show as well. And the flying during the “Extraordinary Girl” number was beautiful, as always (but even better during that number was the hilarity happening on the left side of the stage on Will’s couch).
Overall the ensemble is respectable, but I won’t lie: I wonder if they really understand the show. I didn’t see the connection with the lyrics that I would have liked to have seen from a majority of the cast. The choreography is all there. It’s done with well with as much emotion as I think they were able. But the emotion is such an important part to this show, that I didn’t feel the connection that I’ve felt every other time I’ve seen the show.
I don’t lie: age ain’t nothin’ but a number. But you have to have some life experience to be able to draw on the emotional depth that exists in this show. If you don’t, it easily becomes a glorified Green Day cover show. You can tell these actors are putting everything they have into the show, and for that, I give them applause. This show is physically demanding and terribly difficult to keep up with night after night (and for this non-equity tour, sometimes 11 shows a week!). That can’t make it any easier to pull off.
But bottom line, some of the talent is lacking, some of the acting leaves something to be desired. And on Tuesday night, the sound system was all screwed up (that problem was corrected by Wednesday). Will I go see the show when it comes to Knoxville at the end of April? Probably. But it only leaves me longing for the show I know, love, and miss.
As a side note: a HUGE shout out to the two ladies who did an ASL interpretation of the performance on Wednesday night. They were fantastic! I'd never seen an ASL performance of the show, so it was a fun thing to watch. I wish I'd been able to tell them that (perhaps they'll read this!).