Monday, July 12, 2010

American Idiot: Everything That Is Wrong With Theater and Why It Will Save The Stage

This past Thursday I attended an evening showing of Green Day's American Idiot on Broadway.

Why did I do this? Because it was my mother's birthday. My mom has been listening to Green Day longer than I have, longer than some of you reading this–the younger ones who really shouldn't be reading material of this maturity–have been alive. My mom owns "1,039." I don't care if you got really into Killswitch Engage or Tool when you were fifteen, facts are facts and the facts are that my mom is way cooler than you are. (I once got her a new Offspring album for Mother's Day.)

So yes, my mom bought herself tickets to a real Broadway show for her birthday, and the show she wanted to see the most was American Idiot. She invited me along because, frankly, she didn't know anyone else who could appreciate both theater and internationally acclaimed pop-punk. Being a gentleman, of course I accompanied her.

These following facts are what makes American Idiot better than any other play since the time of Shakespeare, though conversely it's also what will destroy everything the hoity-toity believe good theatre should be:
  • There is plenty of cursing - Both in the songs and in the (sparse) original dialogue, there is nothing classy or farcical about it, like in much of punk's early history, it's just there for shock value, though this in itself is a conveyance of raw, unrefined emotion, something usually only achieved in musical theater through emoting or high-brow writing.
  • Most of the audience already knows the words - You never have to listen too closely if you already know what the lyrics are telling you. Except for Disney musicals with puppets and other remakes, only theater nerds no the words and story to modern plays before seeing it for the first time. Most Victorian plays, meanwhile, were either topical or retellings of classic stories well known to the public.
  • You can walk in wearing jeans and a t-shirt - Hell, they have sharpies lining the entrance so you can sign the walls as you enter the St. James Theater. Something is very wrong about this, but I have to admit it feels good as a young, hip person to own the shit out of something historic like that.
  • YOU CAN DRINK IN THE FUCKING THEATER - I can't stress this enough. There are multiple bars inside the building, on at least two different floors and, yeah, okay, they're insanely overpriced ($17 for a cocktail and a beer), but frankly the bartenders are looking for tips and understandably loose with their liquor. But here's the kicker: they let you take your drinks into the show. You can drink during the performance. I was ecstatic to find a bar inside, livid that I couldn't drink during the punk rock show, and then dumbfoundedly reverent when I found I was mistaken.
This is exactly the point to reiterate that this show contains within it everything that will both kill and revive Broadway as an entertainment form. It is accessible, it is fun and more importantly it is youthful. It's grabbing a whole new generation of people at once, rather than subsisting on a few theater nerds until that generation ages and becomes conservative enough to start attending the theater.

And it doesn't hurt that this play is filled with enough sex, drugs and rock & roll and, oh yeah, real booze for the audience to get heteronormative men into theater for the first time since …

Alright, I've tried for about fifteen minutes now to come up with something that got men unabashedly into live theater and frankly I'm going nowhere. All my jokes either revolve around Rent or "Shakespeare In Love" and neither of those is very red-meat-and-potatoes manly.

I could use another $5 beer.

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