OGDEN — American Idiot is a Broadway Stage adaption of the album of the same name by Green Day, with lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and a book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. The Good Company Theatre company’s production of this musical is directed and choreographed by Austin Archer, and is performed at the Ogden Amphitheater. The plot follows three young men who are bored of their life in the suburbs, and the different paths they choose to take. Green Day’s music is used to discuss life experiences, drug abuse, parenthood, military experiences, love, loss, and everything in between. It is an angsty show that definitely has a content warning on it, but also is a realistic look at the challenges felt by young men entering adulthood.
Good Company’s production benefited strongly from all technical aspects of the show, and was a reminder to me that lights, sound, music, and set design can tell a story when they are well developed and work together. Chris Philion’s set had a run down couch, graffiti and other aspects of daily life, but intermixed through all of it were several television sets. Through the genius sound and projection design by Lydia Oliverson, the televisions became an integral part of the show, especially in augmenting the story of songs such as “Letterbomb.” The clever clips that were used during the songs were ideal in enforcing each song’s message.
Lighting designer William Peterson‘s lights were interesting, especially considering the natural light challenges of an outdoor venue. Peterson mixed colors with levels of light, different lighting options, and in some cases the absence of light to provide aesthetic that also aided in the progression of the story. I found myself noticing the interesting ways that the light reflected on the stage floor, and it seemed that even this was carefully considered part of the design. Costume designer Amanda Dobbs added to the technical prowess of this production, especially with the contrasts between when showing the differences between military life and suburban life. I liked Dobbs’s contribution to story of Tunny (played by Taylor Knuth) and how his costume not only reflected his current activities, but also seem to reflect his state of mind and growth.
It may sound odd, but the main star of the show was Ginger Bess as the production’s music director, band leader, and keyboardists. Bess maintained great control of the small ensemble of instrumental performers and infused her own playing and conducting with such feeling that the result was an impeccable example of why live music is so essential to a strong production. Musicians Yian Chi, Spencer Howe, Grant Leland, and Alex Larson also made important contributions to bring the songs to life and add the emotional flavor needed in the production.
The three main actors, Knuth, Sean Bishop as Will, and Timothy Swenson as Johnny, all had impressive moments in the show. These three were at their best when they were harmonizing together—not an easy thing to do with Green Day’s music. Knuth showed how Tunny grew as a character through songs like “Are We the Waiting” and “Before the Lobotomy.” Swenson was emotional during “Give Me Novacaine” and brought a sense of realism to that song. Bishop was the unfortunate victim of a broken body microphone that hindered some of his most important moments, which was particularly sad because he seemed to be performing them well.
The character of St. Jimmy, played expertly by Seth Foster, is meant to be Will’s alter ego as he struggles with addiction. In my job as a trained addictions counselor, this character was the most poignant part of the show. The song “Know Your Enemy” should be required viewing for anyone who has battled an addiction, and even more so for those who are working to understand loved ones who are on that path. Foster and Bishop blend the characters together so well that the confusion, exhaustion, and conversely the strength of Will was evident. And while I wish that the female characters could have had a more detailed storyline, the performances by Caroline Hanks (as Heather), Savannah Moffat (as Whatshername), and Liz Corona (as The Extraordinary Girl) were all noteworthy.
American Idiot is a compelling look at how adolescents transition into adulthood, the steps people take to numb pain and enhance pleasure, and the never ending battle with loneliness and acceptance. The production by the Good Company Theatre was not flawless, but perhaps that is part of the charm, because life transitions are also not flawless.