Green Day’s American Idiot: Broadway Play vs. Game

If you travel to 44th Street’s St. James Theatre to see American Idiot, you’ll witness a play that changes what you’ve thought about Green Day’s epic rock opera concept CD.

When you attend, you’ll enjoy a sometimes funny, often Hubert Selby-dark interpretation of Billie Joe Armstrong’s vision of St. Jimmy and Johnny. There’s a lot going on onstage — all the time — and the cast is considerably jacked up and busy, similar to choreography of The Tribe, the ensemble cast of actors that comprised the stirring version of Broadway’s Hair revival. In other words, there’s always something to see.

Here though, these are punks, urban and suburban, more like attractive, regular punk people than ultra-pretty hippie people.

Tony Vincent’s St. Jimmy is a rock ‘n roll lover’s delight. Leaping about the stage and jumping to the rafters like Satan at the Crossroads, his powerful singing voice is more like a rocker’s than anyone else in the cast.  John Gallagher’s Jr.’s Johnny is more subtle, more like the anti-folk types that have populated Lach’s various venues over the last 20 years. He reminded me of Beck when Beck lived on the Lower East Side.

As the tale unfolds, you witness everything from suburban slacker angst to the complications of unexpected pregnancy to the bleak horrors of war to terribly affecting scenes of strung out madness. Finally, there’s a tear-inducing, full-cast rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

So what does this have to do with Green Day Rock Band?

The first thing I wanted to do when I got home around midnight was to play the game to relive some of the moments just witnessed. I like Green Day Rock Band as a fan and as a critic. That comes through even in the feature I penned for G4TV. In other words, it’s a fine game in my book, one that I’ll go back to for years to come.

If there’s one thing that can be criticized, however, it’s the game’s story and the stark venues in which that tale unfolds. Story still is the thing that’s given short shrift in games, especially in rhythm-based music games.

Wouldn’t it have been great if a story mode had been based upon the play’s affecting plot? Sure, that might have given the game an M-rating for language and themes. But even if the tale were cleaned up a bit for a teen audience, it would have been such a compelling experience, one that could have helped those dealing with the same problems dealt with onstage.

Having the game focus on the play (which garnered two Tony awards and has earned $25 million in ticket sales) would have made Green Day Rock Band the finest music game of all time. There is no doubt about that.  That indeed would have welcomed you to “a new kind of tension all across the alien nation.”

-Harold Goldberg

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