The American coming of age rock ‘n roll dream is a simple recipe. Start with the town where you were raised, sprinkle on a lot of general unhappiness, add the promise of the Big City and then stir in some electric guitar. Voila! You’ve just understood the American teenager. Stay until any bar closes in the USA and you’ll hear “Don’t Stop Believing” at least once.
“American Idiot,” written by Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day, fast-forwards this historic motif to Gen-Xers and older Millennials. I am, at 34, the target demographic. The story anchors three young men in time in the early 2000s, the same time I was graduating high school and opening my eyes to the world. I was excited to review this piece, not only because I grew up with Green Day, but because today’s media circus makes it all the more relevant.
The Carnegie contains an historic, intimate theater in Covington, KY. I haven’t reviewed anything there before, and I was pleased. From the walkability to busy Madison St. to the concession stand/bar in the corner of a sparse grand lobby/art gallery, it felt at once both ageless and brand new. The Carnegie is large, clean and convenient.
The young cast was energetic and enthusiastic, belting expletives and ponderous teenage aphorisms with equal gusto. According to my back-of-napkin math, most of the cast was eating Lunchables when the 2004 Green Day album “American Idiot” came out. Born out of the turmoil and media spectacle after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the album expresses a latent, impotent rage against suburban existence and American society. The fact that an extension of the same war is being fought today, in 2019, is not lost on the audience.
Being a non-stop rock concert, American Idiot takes us through the journey of three young men escaping suburbia. Singing and dancing for a couple dozen songs is hard, and this cast puts in the work. If you’re a fan of Green Day, you’ll enjoy the variety of vocal approaches and the live band. They received a fair share of long applause breaks and finished with a standing ovation.
This is a great show, especially for people my age who grew up with Green Day and can relate to the “bored youth” vibe. It’s also a great show for anyone who feels moved by that classic American rock ‘n roll dream: we can be so much more than what society expects from us. The only problem is that we’ve got to get out there and do it.
An especially powerful performance, Maddie Vaughn’s St. Jimmy (the manifestation of heroin), rattled me. Her voice was raw and soaked in addiction. That voice drew our leading man, Frankie Chuter’s Johnny, on a dark journey of pain, loss and self-discovery at rock bottom.
More important perhaps than the show itself is the chance to see the Cincinnati region’s next generation of young talent. Some of these names may be in marquee lights in the near future, here and elsewhere. I look forward to following their budding careers as performing artists.
See American Idiot at The Carnegie now through August 25, 2019.
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.