Green Day fanatics may think I’m the idiot, but an aerial ballet instantly became my favorite moment in the punk rock musical American Idiot.
A caveat: Because I’m a member of a generation that was around for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, and miles past pubescence when heavy metal hit the turntables, you might want to take this review with a grain of salt.
But I found the fantasy sequence — employing semi-visible wires rather than the in-your-face wireless technological light show that frames most of the rock opera — breathtaking.
Scott J. Campbell and Nicci Claspbell are as smooth as seagulls in flight.
Nearly as good are two more segments choreographed by Steven Hoggett — one in which a drug tourniquet becomes a tether for a lithe couple, another where ensemble hands and arms dance while torsos and legs remain stationary.
Overall, though, the San Francisco show is 98 percent high energy, beating like a pulsating heart at the end of a sprint.
And it is loud, Loud, LOUD!
Like watching a 90-minute rock concert with super-strong voices and a fragmented storyline about three male buddies, their angst, alienation and search for meaning.
Dozens of TV screens effectively blink at once, companions to blinding strobes. Projections mimic high-rises and bombing missions and myriad other images. A towering Christine Jones’ set lets people scramble up and down metal scaffolding and pop in and out of window cutouts. Costumes range from street garb and medical or military attire to high-glitz dresses.
“American Idiot” is based on a best-selling 2004 album by Green Day, a Berkeley-based band. Their most familiar tunes are here: “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “21 Guns.” “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
The text overlay is a downer, though.
Our anti-hero can’t decipher who he is. So he morphs into a heroin junkie, finds a lover willing to destroy herself alongside him, and drops out of society until a shot at working in an office cubicle.
That, too, fails.
One of his pals becomes a couch spud whose partner feels forced to flee with their baby; the other gets wounded in war and is trapped in a wheelchair.
None of the musical’s text is likely to appear in the same sentence with anything by Shakespeare or Kerouac: “I walk a lonely road.” “Nobody seems to agree on anything these days.” “No friends. No girls. I need both.”
“American Idiot,” which debuted at the Berkeley Rep in 2009 before a yearlong stint on Broadway, clearly has roots in “Hair,” “Tommy” and “Rent.”
But its explosiveness makes them all come off like nursery rhymes.
The music, of course, is groundbreaking Green Day, with lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, who also co-wrote the libretto with Michael Mayer, who in turn directed the opus.
Van Hughes stars as Johnny, the addict. Jake Epstein portrays Will, the slacker, and Campbell is the combatant, Tunny.
Gabrielle McClinton, as Whatsername, and Leslie McDonell as Heather, do well as the main female foils.
Before the opening night’s performance, audience members used white Sharpies to write on a black board in the Orpheum lobby to simulate graffiti. Their edge-less scrawls — highlighted by such deep thoughts as “Proud to be an American Idiot,” “God is in control” and “In memory of our first date” — foreshadowed surprisingly inert reactions to the production.
I couldn’t figure why they didn’t at least bob in their seats, especially since they averaged 35 years younger than the usual Best of Broadway throng.
The guy in front of me, for example, was outfitted in Goth ebony. His dark curls flopped onto his forehead, messy strands of hair stretched down his neck, but both sides of his head were shaved. His hands stayed in his pockets.
I, meanwhile, applauded frequently, despite being outdone age-wise (someone had written on the graffiti wall, “Oldest guy here — 6-23-33”).
Full predisposition disclosure: I enjoy much classic rock but dislike most current stuff unless it’s fused with good jazz. And my dislike of punk rock dates to its mid-‘70s inception when the Sex Pistols, Clash and Ramones broke through — although I concede I did relish some of punk’s anti-establishment musical tidbits.
I was staggered, therefore, to discover I loved “American Idiot.”
It’s spectacular, a visceral thrill — even if you need earplugs to muffle some decibel counts.
“American Idiot” runs at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco, through July 8. Night performances Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Matinees, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $31 to $100. Information: (888) 746-1799 or shnsf.com.