American Idiot, at my alma matter; 11.21.15

Matt, my American Idiot and Green Day partner-in-crime for life, alerted me a few weeks ago that Pace University, the school I graduated from, was staging American Idiot this week and we bought tickets. I’m not sure how I missed this bit of information because I’m part of the Pace Performing Arts group on Facebook and maybe I’m on some kind of list serv for the department, but it seems I totally zoned out on this fact.

The Schimmel Theatre at Pace was built to mimic the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center so it’s very large and we made sure to get there when the doors opened to get good seats. We ended up securing seats in the fourth row. We’d kind of wanted to be in the front row, but friends of the cast had commandeered those first. We spotted Leslie McDonel, the director and original cast member, there of course Gerard Canonico, another original cast member, was also in the lobby when we arrived. As you can see, we were excited:

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My friend Andrew and his girlfriend joined us minutes to showtime and we took in the set, which looked like a smaller version of the one designed for Broadway, and took (what are probably illegal) photos and settled in for the next 90 minutes. 

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The short version: We really, really enjoyed ourselves. These guys did an amazing job. I missed the anticipation of the curtain rising at the beginning, for sure. They had some great graphics that they used – stills from the republican debates and the like – and they used a bunch of soundbites from Trump. Ian Fairlee, who played Johnny, had a very strong voice that was totally reminiscent of John Gallagher Jr.’s more often than not. He made a few different choices as far as his portrayal and they all worked. For the first few songs they had him in a sweater and all I could think was “oh god, I hope he gets to take that off soon.” (He did.) David Park, who played Will, also had a really nice voice and made great choices as far as his character. He really pulled off the man-bun spectacularly too. As the much, much more bro-y version of Tunny was Connor Antico. He also had a great voice which started off sounding like a member of a boy band but got grittier as the show went on. McDonel made the decision to make Tunny and total and complete bro was much different than what we’ve seen on Broadway and on tour, but it worked. Matt and I always judge a Tunny by how long and strong he can hold his high note at the end of Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Well, we high-fived each other when Antico held onto it strongly to the point where we were wondering if it was a recording. 

Mary Claire Miskell, an original cast member of Broadway’s short-lived 13, played Whatshername, was really excellent. She embodied the character’s free spiritied-ness in a much younger (obviously) way than Rebecca Naomi Jones did. Marissa O’Donnell, seen on Broadway in Shrek, portrayed a heart broken and frustrated-as-fuck Heather. Her voice is beautiful but for me, in a rock musical, started out a bit too beautiful, but as the show rocked on, she found her vocal grittiness.  The last stand-out was Jamal Christopher Douglas as St. Jimmy. This was an interesting choice that McDonel made for this character, as it’s general played by a strung-out-looking skinny, somewhat jovial white dude. Douglas was anything but – he’s muscular, scary, and imposing. He had the presence of a drag queen, at some moments, but in a way that completely worked. It was just nothing like what we’d ever seen in past incarnations (that would include Berkeley, Broadway, Equity tour, non-Equity tour, etc). It feels silly not to give a shout-out to the last featured actor onstage, Sarah Hamaty, the Extraordinary Girl, who was great, but the character comes in so late that it always seems like barely a featured player.  Hamaty has a great voice and did her best with the movement in the song given that they obviously couldn’t suspend her from the ceiling. 

McDonel borrowed probably 1/3 of the original choreography from Broadway and the new choreography fit in just fine. Her direction is a new and smaller space was effective and visually beautiful. The band was on the top level of the stage and killed it. The lighting was extraordinarily effective and it was great to watch these students masterfully pull off a show that is so near and dear to our hearts. Standing ovations were given at the end and Good Riddance was, of course, the encore. 

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Afterward we stayed around for a bit to tell a bunch of the cast congratulations and they did “our” show proud.  I ran (okay, walked) up to to Connor Antico after, tapped him on the arm, and said, “You fucking killed that high note, man. SO Awesome! Congrats!” or at least it was some iteration of that. He really shattered our expectations and probably even showed Stark Sands up (sorry, Sands). We spoke to Ian Fairlee and Jamal Douglas, too, before I said goodbye to my Idiot friends and headed home.

American Idiot has two shows today (Saturday) and two tomorrow. Click here for more information. If you’re a fan of the show, go check it out. 

So I finally got to see Kinky Boots last week. My friend grabbed two standing room tickets which were totally fine, view-wise. I’d heard many great things, like choreography and cast, and that this is the show that might beat Matilda for Best Musical. So I had an open mind.

Full disclosure: I’m incredibly, incredibly biased with regards to the Best Musical this year, I know. I think Matilda is the best thing since Rent (that’s an awful comparison, I know).

Verdict: I thought it was a well- written musical. Some of the music was very catchy and the cast was phenomenal. It had moments of serious boredom though. And I spent the entire first act waiting for the amazing choreography. The only amazing choreography was in the act one finale and the show finale.

Stark Sands is incredibly endearing and of course has an amazing voice. Annaleigh Ashford is hands down hilarious, with an incredible voice (and her character is definitely paying a bit of homage to Cyndy Lauper for sure).

And Billy Porter. MAN. I’ve always been keenly aware of his immense talents but he just blows the roof off the Hirschfeld with his performance. I think Porter and Ashford might reason enough to see this show.

The themes behind it, as directed by the brilliant Jerry Mitchell, are a tad confusing. Maybe a bit convoluted too. It’s partially about a drag queen coming to terms with his difficult relationship with his father but at center of that journey is a heterosexual relationship? Maybe it’s not meant to be analyzed in such a way.

I really did enjoy it. Do I think the choreography is competition for the likes of Matilda and Pippin? Certainly not. Will it win Best Musical? I’m nervous there’s a chance, purely for the fact that Lauper’s name is associated with (she did write the score, after all).

So I’m glad I saw it (so I can have an educated opinion about it and all that) but I’m still crossing my fingers for Matilda.

Let’s start from the beginning… I attended the Q&A last night and this time I filmed the whole thing.  Above is part one of the moderated questions, here’s part two, three, and four.  

And here is parts one, two, and three of the audience questions.  It was quite entertaining tonight – a lot of lame questions, but a couple of really, really good ones too.  Enjoy!