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Finally, Some American Idiots with Something to Say (or Sing)

American Idiot - IN Wilmington
Dan Sanchez
Delaware Arts INfo Blog

“If you don’t like sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and cursing, you’re in the wrong show,” said Wilmington Drama League's Stage/Production Manager, Kathy Buterbaugh during her Saturday, June 10, curtain speech. “This is a 90-minute show without an intermission; so I hope you have three beers because once this thing starts, it just goes!”

And, boy, does it! Based on Green Day’s 2004 album American Idiot, Director Chris Turner brings the show to life on the Wilmington Drama League (WDL) stage with a cacophony of song and dance in a story of love, loss and redemption.

Originally conceived as a rock-opera by Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong, the band had always intended for this music be performed on stage a la The Who’s Tommy, and used their 2004 album release as a sort of demo. Flash forward to September 2009: The show is running at the Berkeley Repertory TheatreCalifornia. It was then transferred to the St. James Theatre on Broadway where the musical officially opened on April 20, 2010. The show closed on April 24, 2011 after 422 performances. 

The musical won two 2010 Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical. It was also nominated for Best Musical that same year but lost out to Memphis. In 2011, the Broadway Cast Recording of American Idiot won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

The basic storyline of American Idiot is flimsy but familiar: Three young suburbanite kids get bored/feel trapped with their mundane lives – as well as mommy and daddy’s rules – and decide to break free. 

Subsequently, one (Will, played by William Bryant) stays home after finding out his girlfriend, Heather, is expecting. Another (Tunny, played by Ben Long) joins the military and is shipped off to war. And, in a role originated by and named for Wilmington native Johnny Gallagher, Jr. (Original Cast of Spring Awakening. TV & Film: The Newsroom10 Cloverfield Lane) is Brandon Zebley as Johnny, who yearns to break free and live a less than humdrum life, ultimately turns to drugs. 

Rounding out the cast of Wilmington Drama League production is an energetic bunch of local talent: Alexander Cook, Gina Dzielak, Kendra Eckbold, Marion Jackson (Heather), Daulton Mahley, Darby McLaughlin (Whatshername), Ty Pride (Extraordinary Girl), Felipe Rocha, Chrissy Stief and Shane Wilson. 

Tony Delnegro’s interactive set features multiple levels, a plethora of flatscreen TVs, graffiti, and gives a sense of an urban everywhere and a dystopian nowhere, providing an ample playground for the shows many locales. Combined with smart lighting design by Aaron Cook and Brian Kavanaugh, this production also employs two projectors focused on the walls of the house to immerse the audience in a world of ever-changing imagery – by Banksy, a city skyline and more – to set the mood perfectly. 

The choreography by WDL perennial Dominic Santos manipulates tribal-like movements and punk-rock head-banging to evoke the angst and feelings of disenfranchised young adults. 

Standout performances among the talented cast come from the ladies opposite of our main character trio; Marion Jackson as the pregnant and disappointed Heather; Darby McLaughlin as the sultry vixen Whatshername; and Ty Pride as the Extraordinary Girl. Each of these young ladies have angelic voices that effortlessly soar through each song they belt. 

The real highlight of this show, however, is the band who rocks out on this non-stop wave of music with the energy and vigor of an actual Green Day concert. But, of particular note, is Music Director/Band Leader, Caty Butler. This young talent takes the stage for the first time in American Idiot as the enticing smack dealer St. Jimmy, a role traditionally played by a man and one she only stepped into a week before opening. Butler outright owns this role and commands the stage with her vocal prowess. I look forward to watching her continue grow as a musician and wait with baited breath to see her onstage as an actor again.

Though I did over hear an older patron ask, “What the hell did I just watch?” after the show, I would say that’s a good indication that this ain’t your NaNa’s Broadway and highly recommend checking out the charismatic production of this high-concept rock-opera before it’s gone.

American Idiot at the Wilmington Drama League runs through June 18. Tickets are available via the Drama League website www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org or via phone at 302.764.1172.