REVIEW BY JAIME ZAHL OF LONG ISLAND ARTS SCENE
Many musicals prove to be a product of their time. Classic shows like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel” provided an escape from World War II while contemporary works like “RENT” voiced the anxieties of Generation X “at the end of the millennium.” “American Idiot” – based on Green Day’s 2004 Grammy Award-winning album – continued the tradition with a focus on a post-9/11, struggling middle-class youth in the midst of the Bush Administration. Despite hitting the Broadway stage in 2010, for many young theatre-goers it was a cathartic bookend to the decade. Seeing it through the lens of 2020, the album and the show it inspired remain eerily timely, prompting the question – how much has really changed?
The rock opera is a bold choice for CM Performing Arts Center. However, it is one to be commended. It’s no secret theaters map out their seasons with their audiences and subscribers in mind. With that being said, “American Idiot” will undeniably delight a niche of theatergoers while others – with more conservative sensibilities – may not allow themselves to be challenged by the show’s content. In short, it’s far from family-friendly with depictions of drug use, sexual situations, and swearing. However, I implore potential audiences to keep an open mind. Musicals are an evolving art-form and old Hollywood-style production numbers set to Cole Porter are no longer the standard.
CM’s electrifying production would truly be a shame to miss. The cast is stacked with skilled vocalists, dancers, and musicians – who notably play guitar throughout the show and in a moving rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” in the finale.
Leading the charge is the incredible Andrew Murano as Johnny. His voice, well-trained for the rock score, perfectly captures the spirit of Billie Joe Armstrong’s leading vocals while not resorting to imitation. Meanwhile, his raw emotion brings an element of pathos to the role, which could remain a vague outline in less capable hands.
By his side are friends Will (David DiMarzo) and Tunny (Matthew Paredi.) Both actors’ vocals are also a great match for Green Day’s music. Their performances not only showcase their talent, but their range as actors. Just last month Mr. Paredi portrayed the nerdy Dennis in “All Shook Up” while Mr. DiMarzo notably starred as the Beast in CM’s last production of “Beauty and the Beast” – both jarringly different, but equally well-executed roles.
These three characters ground the show and its loose plot – in my opinion, a bit too loose. While Johnny and Tunny leave suburbia behind, Will is forced to stay behind after he finds out he is going to become a father. Meanwhile, Johnny and Tunny eventually take separate paths with Tunny enlisting in the military – in the midst of the Iraq War – and Johnny becoming another victim to the seduction of heroin. His drug induced state conjures St. Jimmy – an alter-ego with all the eccentricities of history’s long list of drug-fueled rock musicians. Michael Visconti owns the role of St. Jimmy, personifying an adrenaline rush each time he takes the stage and projects stellar vocals.
Each leading man has a female counterparts of sorts. This formula ages the show in its portrayal of female identifying roles – especially when you compare it to female-driven shows currently dominating Broadway stages like “Six.” However, the three actresses embodying the characters – or, rather, outlines of characters – are all phenomenal. Jess Ader-Ferretti leads one of the most exhilirating numbers in the show – “Letterbomb” – as Whatsername with ferocity displayed through her execution of Ashley Nicastro’s choreography and her killer vocals. Her struggle – emoted powerfully through expression and body-language – of watching a man she cares about battle addiction is heartbreaking.
Samantha Rosario is also a force to be reckoned with as Extraordinary Girl. She embodies both a fever dream of a beautiful woman who appears to Tunny in a hospital after being injured in battle and, in reality, a fellow soldier and a source of compassion. Marly Mensher rounds out the female trio as Heather, Will’s pregnant girlfriend. Although she only appears in a handful of scenes, she makes an impact and brings fresh pathos to a common trope.
It must be stated that both the ensemble and the band are a steel backbone for the production. What this musical lacks in narrative strength, this group makes up for in high-volt energy, passion, and skill. Together, the cast and the band create an atmosphere of a bonafide rock concert.
This production is a team effort made possible with the technical and creative talents of the professional-grade production team and crew. Patrick Grossman’s set – heightened by John Mazzarella’s projections – is a sight to behold with two cars on stage and scaffoldings, which become a jungle-gym of sorts for the cast.
CM Performing Arts Center seems to continuously challenge itself in terms of what a community theater can bring to local audiences. This is not just entertainment, but artistry.
Photos by Justan Garcia, BFunkPhoto