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"American Idiot" is Gorgeous Rock, Not Plot

Berkeley Rep’s Green Day rock-opera “American Idiot”- which world premiered last night at Berkeley Rep - is a hugely ambitious project that bombards with sound, vision and thrashing emotion. It looks, smells and sounds like teen spirit.

The plot takes a familiar path that goes like this: the anti-hero leaves home, lives in squalor, becomes disillusioned, rocks, rages against the machine, takes drugs, angsts more, rocks more and does more drugs.  The end point is either death or redemption. And that's pretty much it.

Less a play than a rock album set to striking visuals, Green Day’s very anticipated stage production has great music, rabble-rousing dancing and a stunning set and light design.  But a play it is not. There isn't actually a story, just songs that reflect the mind-set of a politically pissed-off and alienated American youth.

Still the songs come to life vividly and powerfully with sound, light and set design that well-captures the themes. Some three dozen TV sets are embedded in the walls, airing everything from George W. Bush to infomercials, a blizzard of dizzying overstimulation. Christine Jones (sets), Kevin Adams (Lighting Design) and Brian Ronan (Sound Design) all worked on the Tony-winning “Spring Awakening,” and their talents are once again on display here.

“American Idiot” has many echoes of social issue musicals of the past – "Rent", (next month at the Curran) "West Side Story", (in SF next Fall) Hair and very notably “Across the Universe.”  Set-designer Christine Joneshas worked with Julie Taymor, whose mesmerizing aesthetics for “Across the Universe” seems to have influenced the look of this show.

Steven Hoggett’s choreography has moments of greatness -- like this druggy flight and dances of sex and drugs, which in one instance incorporate the creepy-beautiful use of a rubber tourniquet.

The production has a million points of innovation, many breathtaking and emotionally affecting. But when all the songs are sung, it’s more of a 90 minute music video.