The magnum opus of Alternative Rock band Green Day in theater form, this show received a certain suspicion from the Broadway establishment for the same reason Mamma Mia did…that is, certain people perceived it as a threat. By this point, we were used to Jukebox musicals, and the genre no longer seemed threatening, but this isn’t even a Jukebox musical…it’s an album Rock Opera placed on stage more or less wholecloth, with just one new song and a few interpolations from the band’s latest album. This had only been done once before, with Tommy, and that was an established work with decades of canonization behind it by the time it played Broadway, not a relatively new piece like this.
Admittedly, the show isn’t perfect…the libretto, insofar as there is one, is skimpy and rather pretentious, and while I don’t disagree with the band’s politics, their treatment of topical issues is a bit on the shallow side. The anger which drives the show has less to do with any actual ideological agenda, and more to do with the typical generic Rock’N’Roll ‘rebellion’ that the early Punk bands were under the delusion they had discovered even though their parents had already overdosed on it in the Sixties, and the attempts at satirical lyrics are little more than checklists of countercultural buzzwords (like when the title-song rhymes ‘America’ with ‘agenda, ‘propaganda’, and ‘paranoia’).
Then again, everything I just said also applies to Hair, which managed to become a perennial classic just because people liked its songs, and with music like this, this show seems to have a pretty good chance of doing the same thing. Green Day may have started out as a pretty rudimentary Pop-Punk outfit (although their biggest early hit was the quintessential Adult Alternative ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, which would also be interpolated into this show), but here they rise to a level of sophistication and tunefulness their early work never even hinted at. Some fans of their early work resented it because it leans more on the Pop side of Pop-Punk than the Punk side, but the fact is that it’s simply better music than their earlier songs like “Brain Stew” or “Geek Stink Breath”. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time”, “21 Guns”, and the title song are the highlights of this highly impressive and entertaining score.
If the show is ultimately something of a staged rock concert, it is at least a much more interesting, original, and cohesive one than, say, Rock of Ages, and it might have stood a chance at the Tonys if it weren’t for one thing: the Broadway establishment probably saw the idea of giving the Tony to a work from such a clearly non-Broadway source to be an implied confession of failure (kind of like saying “There were no good ‘real’ musicals this season, so we gave the Tony to a staging of a Pop album”). Frankly, it still didn’t deserve the award as much as Fela, but I’d rather have seen American Idiot walk away with the Tony than Memphis.