Skip to content

The Carnegie’s “American Idiot” Nails the Nostalgia for Y2K Punk Culture

Review by Nathan Top  of “American Idiot”: Carnegie Theatre

I have an allergy to jukebox musicals; primarily most of them are poorly written and garishly marketed for the purpose of making money. 

The Carnegie’s production of “American Idiot” is not that show.

Director and choreographer Maggie Perrino’s exuberant vision for this show is clear and focused, showcasing the angst and heartbreak of the original 2004 Green Day album after which the show is titled. The set, designed by Doug Stock, is a piece of art in and of itself. So much is going on, between spray paint, scaffolding, and tarps hung around the theater, that the ambiance is strongly set right away. 

The diverse and talented cast Maggie Perrino has assembled is astounding. The primary trio of characters, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, played by Frankie Chuter, Robert Breslin, and Ethan Baker respectively, carry the show with their strong voices and empathetic portrayals of their roles. Hannah Gregory, playing the ironically titled role Whatsername, brings the house down with her anthem to all disappointing boyfriends, “Letterbomb,” while the character Heather, portrayed by Chandler Bates, tugs the audience’s heartstrings with her ballad, “Dearly Beloved.” The commanding Maddie Vaughn, who plays St. Jimmy, nails her solos to the back of the hall with strength and precision, while  MacKenzie Ruff, who portrays Extraordinary Girl, has tasty vocal riffs for days. 

I think there was a story in there. Something about three angry young men going their separate ways and seeking fulfillment through different means, one by staying with his pregnant girlfriend, one by taking a lot of drugs, and another who joins the military because of a commercial (?). One of the girls was the personification of drugs. While the show does contain a few unsung lines, primarily delivered by the winsome Chuter, the music does not strongly portray the wisp of a story well, acting almost as a song cycle rather than a musical. Unfortunately, many lyrics are difficult to understand throughout the show, either due to diction or sound design, causing character motivations and story arc to be lost in the sauce of an otherwise high quality production. That said, the show is still mesmerizing to watch.

Thank God for this pit. Taking Green Day’s iconic songs and musical arrangements by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Tom Kitt, the band rocks the whole show on stage. Danny Manning’s musical direction of the cast and band truly highlights the many talented performers on stage.  Aaron Almashy rocked so hard on guitar, he broke a string.

Within the first ten minutes of this show, at least three older patrons of the theater left. This is not a show for young children or those easily offended by loud, enthusiastic F-bombs being dropped on the audience. However, if you are not one who is easily offended by an unfiltered portrayal of punk culture in the early 2000s, this is a show for you. And if you find yourself similarly afflicted with an allergy to jukebox musicals, I would recommend taking a Zyrtec and heading to The Carnegie to feast your eyes on a visually and aurally joyful production of “American Idiot,” which plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Carnegie through August 25, 2019.