Billie Joe Armstrong in American Idiot
(© Paul Kolnik)
Billie Joe Armstrong in American Idiot
(© Paul Kolnik)
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong delivers a terrific performance as St. Jimmy in the dynamic Broadway musical American Idiot, at (appropriately enough) the St. James Theatre. Based upon the band's 2004 concept album of the same name, the show includes all 13 tracks from that CD, along with additional Green Day songs.

Armstrong previously appeared in the production for a one-week, sold-out engagement this past September. The artist certainly knows his way around the show's music, having written and originally performed the songs with fellow Green Day members Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool. He's also credited with co-writing the musical's book, along with director Michael Mayer.

The story centers on three friends who go on separate but interlocking journeys: Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) descends into a life of drug addiction, Will (Michael Esper) unexpectedly becomes a father, and Tunny (Stark Sands) joins the military. Spoken dialogue is minimal, with Johnny occasionally delivering journal entries that give very basic information.

St. Jimmy first appears about a half hour into the musical, as Johnny's drug dealer. However, as the show goes on, the character is revealed to be much more than that. Armstrong puts his own spin on the role (which was originated by Tony Vincent). Whereas Vincent practically radiated malevolence, Armstrong's St. Jimmy is more of a clownish figure. He has a goofy charm, although the performer is also able to invoke a darker side to St. Jimmy as he watches in the shadows, appearing jealous and threatened by Johnny's love affair with the alluring Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones).

While Johnny's story was always the most prominent narrative within the show, it now seems to have a greater focus than before, possibly due to Armstrong's presence. Credit must also go to Gallagher, whose high-octane performance at the beginning of the musical gives way to a more nuanced characterization. It helps that he takes the lead vocals on several of the ballads, notably "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and the love song, "When It's Time," both of which are highlights of the show. Jones also makes a memorable impression, particularly in the song "Letterbomb," which has been reimagined as a kind of girl-power anthem, and sung at a crucial moment within the Johnny-Whatsername relationship.

A repeat viewing of the musical also gives me a greater appreciation for the choreography by Steven Hoggett, which eschews a more traditional Broadway-style dancing in favor of a movement vocabulary that has a raw, unpolished feel. There are clear patterns and repetitions that have a cumulative effect that is striking, and Hoggett and Mayer also utilize Christine Jones' multi-level set very well. This is particularly true of the song "Holiday," in which a rolling scaffolding platform is tipped over to transform into a bus while various cast members dance joyously around it and on it.

American Idiot remains a glorious theatrical experience that utilizes the power of Green Day's songs to paint a portrait of disaffected youth. Armstrong's presence gives the production added value, and his performance in the show is certain to please his legion of fans.

For tickets to American Idiot, click here.