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Theater Tue Sep 15 2015

The Hypocrites' American Idiot: A Raucous Punk Adventure

Upon entering The Den Theater for the Hypocrites' new production of American Idiot, the audience is treated to a live band playing a variety of songs from the punk oeuvre. The cast mingles onstage, forming an audience for the band, which also serves as pre-show music. They also mingle with the audience, with a familiarity that reminded me of the late '80s/early '90s punk scene in Chicago. (Everyone sort of knows everyone else...and if not, you will by the end of a night in the mosh pit with them.)

American Idiot
Malic White with the cast/band of The Hypocrites' Chicago premiere of American Idiot. Photo by Evan Hanover.

What follows is a raucous and riotous punk opera journey through the life of a disaffected suburban young adult and his best friends/bandmates as they live life, struggle to deal with adult issues and grapple with very serious matters in a post-9/11 world.

The narrative itself is deeply woven into the lyrics, arrangements, set pieces and choreography. Each choice by the director, musical director, costume and set designer served to reinforce the story. No detail was extraneous or superfluous. It all came together seamlessly to create a breathless and seamless whole that transports the audience to its created world.

Some of the standouts of this production are the performances of the three main characters -- Johnny, Will and Tunny (Luke Linsteadt, Jay Cullen and Steven Perkins). The three each embody their characters with a three-dimensional quality that can be difficult to achieve in the musical format. As each grapples with "real life" issues that stand in stark contrast to the disaffected suburban punk ethos, they paint very real portraits of addiction to drugs and alcohol, of accidental unwanted pregnancy and of a very real desire to create change and fight the system from within.

Another cast standout is Malic White as St. Jimmy. White plays the personification of Johnny's base desires as a sexual genderqueer quintessence of pure id. He manifests temptation, lust and want that begins as glamour and is shut away as Johnny sees that his addiction has cost him his relationship. His performance is evocative of Tina Turner's Acid Queen (from the Who's Tommy) but with a thoroughly modern and completely punk rock twist.

And finally, the two female leads -- Heather and Whatshername (Alex Madda and Krystal Worrell) were excellently cast and played their roles very well. Their numbers stood out as feminist beacons in a show that was largely played from a male perspective. It was good and slightly unexpected to see that perspective in this show. In fact, the diverse casting of the show and the queer, feminist and lefty political overtones were a fantastic twist that addresses a lot of the typical complaints (too white, too hetero, too male, etc.) that have been leveled at the punk scene throughout the years.

Some of my favorite moments were small production details within the musical numbers that lended a tongue-in-cheek campiness to the production. The use of American flag dresses and the sexy male singer dressed in sparkly rock n' roll stretch pants and an American flag muscle shirt in Favorite Son; a giant pile of heroin on a silver platter with small plastic white crosses (reminiscent of military graves); the girl band takeover during "Letterbomb" (with its epic choreographic ending in the splits with a double "flipping of the bird"); and the use of platforms and climbing columns to give the choreography a variety of levels that added a riotous excitement to the dance numbers and the show as a whole.

A shout-out has to be given to Andrea Velis Simon for musical direction and to the original lyrics and arrangements by Billy Joe Armstrong and Green Day. Within the show are some really beautiful moments created with harmony. There are also some great moments due to choices of instruments such as the use of a violinist in several of the numbers and the use of gradual buildup during "Wake Me Up When September Ends" from a solo to a duet to a full number with six guitars, a bass and the whole ensemble. The cast handles these complications beautifully and to great effect.

Fans of Green Day, the album American Idiot or punk rock in general will be completely entertained, transported and held rapt by this production. The Hypocrites did an excellent job with American Idiot. It's highly recommended. Go see it before it's over.

The Hypocrites' production of American Idiot directed by Steven Wilson continues through Oct. 25 with matinee performances Saturday and Sunday at 3pm and evening performances Friday and Saturday at 8pm at The Den Theater Mainstage, 1333 N. Milwaukee. Tickets are $36 and can be purchased online.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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