Okay. That is, admittedly, a bit of an exaggeration. I did not come close to death in the audience in the St. James Theater last month. Clearly. I mean, I’m here, writing about it. I lived to tell the tale. But it really did feel like I might have, so, I think it’s fair to be dramatic. (I always think it’s fair to be dramatic.)
The night of the first preview of American Idiot I was in a land far, far away from the Theater District called Pennsylvania. This meant Lucky was stuck with the nearly impossible task of telling me all about what she’d seen at the St. James that night without ruining the show for me. Which left her with…not a lot of material. But, of the things Lucky was able to muster without spoiling me, the one I remember most clearly—because it made me laugh out loud—was “That show will give you a migraine.”
This was, of course, a joke about the unrelenting pace of American Idiot which drives inexorably forward for ninety minutes without an intermission, without a pause. Only. The following Wednesday, when I finally got to the St. James to see St. Jimmy and Jesus and Whatshername, I actually did get a migraine. I’m not even kidding. By the time Theo Stockman was climbing all over the scaffolding/tour bus and belting out “Holiday,” the aura that precedes the epic pain of my migraines stretched over most of the middle of my vision. A glittering golden slash of light prevented me from seeing anything I tried to focus on and I remained at least partially blind for more than half the performance. Two thirds is probably a safer guess.
Yes. I stayed. There are lots of reasons—ticket costs and sheer unbridled excitement among them—but mostly I was just unwilling to let a migraine ruin this moment for me. I’d waited too long. And to be honest, American Idiot turned out to be one of the only shows I could have survived with a burgeoning migraine. I know that sounds crazy, after all, its unyielding nature was what inspired Lucky to joke about getting headaches in the first place. But that’s why it works. American Idiot starts hard and finishes hard and never lets up for a moment in between. It sweeps you up and whisks you along so quickly, so thoroughly, that you don’t have time to think about anything else, to focus on your pain. American Idiot is all encompassing.
Besides, my pain didn’t start until the final twenty or so minutes of the show and that was actually quite fitting. It was like waking up beside the troubled characters on stage, the very same hangover thundering inside my brain. I (very literally) felt Will, Tunny and Jesus’ pain as they came to grips with the fact that no one was waiting to give them an answer. This is my generation, after all. I came of age in a country lead by President George W. Bush—whom I was only a few months too young to vote against—and survived one of our nation’s most devastating tragedies here in New York within weeks of moving away from home for the very first time. This was my story. My rage. My love.
American Idiot is a moving portrait of a generation lost, flailing. A downright terrifying story that offers its characters—its audience—no answers and no solutions, only more questions, more confusion. There is no happy ending. No singing curtain call. But then, that’s what makes it real. And beautiful. That is the point. You have to make meaning yourself. No one can give you the answers. Certainly not your TV screen. And especially not your President.
You can have a migraine and be half blind for more than half the show and still see that. Still feel that. Green Day’s music tells a haunting story and with Michael Mayer’s direction and Steven Hoggett’s absolutely arresting choreography the young, talented cast—lead by Johnny Gallagher Jr., giving the most physically demanding and affecting performance of his career—bring that story to life in a way that stays with you. In a way that you can’t miss or ignore or forget.
And in the morning, when you wake up and the migraine—or the hangover—is gone, American Idiot is still there. You carry it with you. You start to look for your own answers.
Photo Credit: BroadwayWorld.com