Tuesday night at the Winspear, the audience was mesmerized by an explosion called “American Idiot,” which opened for a more than receptive audience. You could feel the audible excitement.
From the moment you take your seat, the un-curtained stage draws you in — as you try to figure out what you’re looking at. The set is unique, albeit a little of “Cats,” married to “Rent” with a sprinkle of “In the Heights” thrown in. The major difference is about 20 or so flat screen monitors mounted on the “walls,” each rolling sentiments of post 9-11 America throughout the production. Another difference is the grocery cart hanging from the rafters, or an occasional actor hanging up there acrobatically.
“American Idiot” gives an intense, energetic performance of the ensemble cast, many of whom are onstage almost 100% of the time, as they take you on their emotional journey. They can’t even enjoy an intermission break, because the show is one act.
A Tony nominee for Best Musical, “American Idiot” received nods for Best Scenic Design by Christine Jones, and Best Lighting Design by Kevin Adams. Both of those effects are spectacular.
“Favorite Son” is the first of several showstoppers, which is exquisitely choreographed by Steven Hoggett. The piece includes an ethereal, airborne “ballet.”
Other standout songs are the ballads, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Extraordinary Girl.”
This is probably one of the most physically challenging shows there is. There’s no sitting around, and only a soupcon of lying down — in bed. You may also want to know ahead that there’s no nudity, but there are lots of folks in their underwear as often as not. Also, brace yourself for strong language. Clearly, this is an adult musical.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” is another ballad showcasing voices of the talented Van Hughes, Scott Campbell, Jake Epstein and the company. The ensemble cast members virtually meld into each other during their numbers. Some of the standout head thrashing is done to “Holiday,” which the ensemble performs while climbing about on a — well, it looks like a jungle gym on steroids.
In April 2010, “American Idiot” opened on Broadway to rave reviews, and became a nominee for Best Musical. A member of that original Broadway cast was Leslie McDonel. You may remember reading about the Woodrow Wilson graduate in an earlier issue of White Rock Lake Weekly. Now Dallas has the pleasure of seeing Leslie starring with the touring company at the Winspear, and she knocks your socks off. As dance captain, she skillfully manages a series of electric performances. To be clear, every dance number doesn’t involve head mashing — only most of them!
Leslie’s credits include tours with “Hairspray” and “Legally Blonde.” Regional credits are “Grease,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona: the Musical,” and “Chicago.” When she lived in Dallas, she appeared in numerous shows at the Dallas Theater Center and Casa Manana. The talented vocalist sang on Green Day’s original soundtrack.
Leslie says she’s excited about playing Dallas. “Friends and schoolmates are all writing to say they’ve got their tickets, so it’s like a reunion as well. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and to showing my cast around town.”
She added that she wasted no time on her arrival in Dallas getting to Chuy’s, where she enjoyed her first Tex-Mex in quite a while on the patio. Asked about her maiden voyage to the Winspear, she said, “It’s so new! And beautiful. But it still has that intimate, special feel that the Broadway houses have.”
Leslie’s dog, half Pug and half Shitsu, Winnie, is a great traveler, so loves going with her on tour. But she can’t wait to get back to her cat, Trish, who she left with friends. “She wouldn’t like touring at all!”
When you have the pleasure of catching “American Idiot,” you can expect the unexpected. It truly makes you want to jump out of your seat and head bang. “American Idiot” will be at the Winspear Theater through May 20. For performance schedule, information and tickets, visit attpac.org/americanidiot.