Monday, November 11, 2013

FILM REVIEW: Broadway Idiot

Review of the documentary film which opened at the SXSW Film Festival on March 15, 2013, and on October 11, 2013 in limited release in the United States.  Featuring Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, John Gallagher, Jr., Tom Kitt, Steven Hoggett, Christine Jones, the Berkeley Rep cast and original Broadway cast of American Idiot.  Released by Film Buff.  Directed by Doug Hamilton.  80 minutes.

Grade: A

If you had told me immediately following the first time I saw American Idiot, that I'd not only see the show more than a half dozen times between Broadway and two National Tours, but I'd also sit through a documentary film about the making of it, I'd have said you were crazy.  But here we are.  I have pretty much chronicled my journey from skeptic to fan on this blog.  And now having seen Broadway Idiot, which chronicles a similar journey for Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong, I am even more of a fan.

Pitching American Idiot
At just an hour and twenty minutes, this film flies by.  Told in mostly chronological order from a giant concert tour supporting the album of the same name to Billie Joe's Broadway debut in American Idiot.  I could go on and on about how fascinating it is to watch first hand the process of transforming a punk rock classic into a stage musical.  There are some highlights of that part of the film, like watching the initial pitch from Michael Mayer to all of the members of Green Day (the looks on their faces is priceless), or watching Tom Kitt figure out how to turn an album mostly sung by one voice into an arrangement of several different characters and a large vocal ensemble.  Watching the company rehearse while the set is being assembled, all while the creative team discusses the concept and challenges of this particular piece will likely be of great interest to theater fans.  I found the segment where Billie Joe, Michael and Tom are sitting at the back of the theater talking music and the comparable scale of rock and Broadway, especially when Kitt effortlessly bangs out a song from the show and transforms it into "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line, just but showing that the two share similar chord progressions.

One of the truly great aspects of this film is that Green Day fans (and music fans in general) will also have plenty to enjoy.  The concert footage interspersed with its stage counterpart is always thrilling, easily, but not heavy-handedly, showing that the distance between the two art forms is not miles apart, but pretty close together.  And as someone not too familiar with the whole rock concert genre, I found the devotion and fervor of the Green Day fans to be not only understandable, but inspiring.  And fans on both fronts should really enjoy watching the cast perform on the Grammy Awards, just after finding out they are going to Broadway, and will, I think, especially appreciate watching the process of the joint Green Day-Broadway Cast recording of "21 Guns."  I loved, too, and think band fans may be shocked to watch a very young Armstrong warble out show tunes at a talent show.

Recording "21 Guns"
Throughout, I was struck by the enthusiasm and cooperation between both the creative team and the band.  And it feels completely genuine.  What is extra nice is that while both parties show equal surprise and awe at what the other does to "get the show on," but more importantly, how the two "worlds" are the same in the most important ways: artistry and passion.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be the lack of problems depicted in the film.  It fairly glosses over the fact that up until Broadway rehearsals we saw a different "Tunny" than Stark Sands, with a blink-and-you-missed-it explanation that "we just wanted to be sure to assemble the best cast we could for Broadway.  And I'm not sure how this otherwise honest-feeling film completely failed to mention that the show continually struggled to gain a large audience from week to week.  Still, the film isn't really about the business of Broadway, but it is about the artistic triumph.

Green Day and the cast of American Idiot

There is one moment in the film that is my favorite of all: we witness the exact moment when Billie Joe Armstrong is bitten by the Broadway bug.  From that moment on, the look in his eye is completely different.  He is a man transformed.  I always wondered what I looked like at that exact moment in my life.  No I have an idea.


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