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American Idiot

Intimate Onstage production of Green Day's musical transforms La Mirada Stage.

The cast of American Idiot, directed by Brian Kite, at La Mirada Theatre.
(© Jason Niedle)

Idiots, get off your flea-bitten couches and drag your dispirited carcasses to the L.A.-Orange County border. It's been more than a decade since Green Day's game-changing album American Idiot entered the scene and nearly six years since the band's front man, Billie Joe Armstrong, and coauthor and director Michael Mayer figured out how to make it a pretty cool jukebox musical. Now director Brian Kite has unleashed a revival of Green Day's American Idiot at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (LMTPA) that is as jagged and socially confrontational as the music that inspired it.

By no means are Kite and his "Idiot" team the first to determine that this hard-driving song cycle of youthful angst does not sit ideally in the proscenium stages of 1,000-seat touring houses. As the LMTPA staging demonstrates, Idiot plays strongest when its punks, slackers, and dreamers can dump their dissatisfaction practically right into our laps. The transformation of the LMTPA for the ONSTAGE series has proven hugely effective for edgier, more claustrophobic fare like Spring Awakening and a killer reimagining of Carrie. For Idiot, a limited number of seats surround the action on three sides with music director David O's band elevated behind the center section. Everybody gets a great view of a video projection board, and the 17 company members fill up the limited performance space quite nicely. For the show's 90 blazing minutes, we're surrounded and under assault. And yes, that's a good thing.

The sung-through "Idiot" has never been known as a character-driven work. The three friends from Jingletown, USA (read suburbia), reveal who they are through Armstrong's songs, not through dialog or particularly in relation to other characters. Will (Ian Brininstool) was a bong-smoking, joystick-jockeying layabout even before he knocked up his girlfriend Heather (Ellie Wymen). Tunny (Patrick Reilly) shows no great independence of thought or spirit, making his religious conversion and decision to join the Army easy enough to swallow. Johnny (Sean Garner), AKA "Jesus of Suburbia," is the play's disaffected antihero, who trades in 7-11 rendezvous for big city raves, encountering his dream girl Whatsername (Jordan Kai Burnett) and St. Jimmy (A.J. Mendoza) who is the essence of drugs and debauchery in human form. Extraordinary Girl (Ashley Loren) enters one of Tunny's post-combat dreams while the poor bastard is having his leg amputated.

With Jonathan Infante's video design serving as effective thematic punctuation, Kite's ensemble blasts through 30 very well-known tracks. The very talented Armstrong was writing for a different medium when he laid the original tracks down for a CD and radio play, but placed into visual contexts, numbers like "Favorite Son," "21 Guns," and "Give me Novacaine" carry a different charge. Choreographer Dana Solimando highlights the suburban angst with athletic stomps, gyrations, and plenty of clinched moves — there's also considerable heat generated between Garner and Burnett in the "Last of the American Girls." The early '90s grunge element of the production is solidified by Thomas G. Marquez's costume palate of flannel, beat-up denim, hoodies, and beanies.

A hollow-eyed Garner lays into Armstrong's tracks with equal parts fear and defiance, making Johnny a credible every-youth. Mendoza's St. Jimmy is a predatory bad*ss. Among the women, Burnett makes for a sultry Whatsername and Wyman's Heather moves suburban girl to the more adventurous "Rock and Roll Girlfriend" once she finally dumps Will.

As existentially dark (for the high school and post-grad in all of us) and angsty as the Idiot soundtrack is, the musical's ballads are equally stirring. As the evening draws to a close, Garner, Brininstool, and Reilly start "Wake Me Up When September Ends" soloing on guitars before David O's band joins in. Fans of the band's catalogue may be disappointed to find that "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" is played over the bows, not sung as a finale, as it was during the national tour.

American Idiot proves that it still seethes with the power of its rebel convictions. It stands the test of time with both its music and, at LMTPA, with this exceptionally effective staging.

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