Theater & Dance
"American Idiot"

By: Music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; book by Billie Joe Armstrong & Michael Mayer
Produced by: City Lights
Directed by: Jeffrey Bracco
Choreographed by: Christine Herrera
Featuring: Joey Pisacane, Tarif Pappu, Andrew Erwin, Sean Okuniewicz, Melissa Baxter, Danielle Mendoza, Taylor Sanders
When: July 14 through August 21, 2016
Where: City Lights, 529 South Second Street, downtown San Jose
Tickets: $19-$41; visit or call 408-295-4200.

Joey Pisacane
Susan Mah Photography / City Lights Theater Company
San Jose singer/songwriter Joey Pisacane plays the rebellious, charismatic Johnny in "Green Day's American Idiot" at City Lights in San Jose, where the show is running July 14 through August 21, 2016.
City Lights wises us up
to 'American Idiot'
Production of Billie Joe Armstrong's
powerful rock opera is a stunner
July 18, 2016

What a great show.

It's no surprise that "American Idiot" won a couple of Tony Awards. But even though the show won awards on Broadway, it is still up to the local production to deliver.

And, boy, did they deliver at City Lights. From the very first moment our senses were assailed with a stage full of dancing, prancing actors gyrating and singing to the sound of a rock band playing the title track, "American Idiot." And the raucous energy lasts for the whole show. The band is dotted around the periphery of the stage, and how they managed to keep in sync I don’t know — none of them could really see each other. But they sounded great and never missed a cue.

The show, of course, is based on Green Day’s album of the same name and tells the story of three friends, Johnny (Joey Pisacane), Tunny (Andrew Erwin), and Will (Tarif Pappu), forced to choose between their dreams and the safety of life in suburbia. The three are descended, figuratively, from a long line of rebels. From James Dean in the '50s, the turn-on, tune-in, drop-out hippies of the '60s, and the punk rockers of the '70s and '80s.

Danielle Mendoza
Susan Mah Photography / City Lights Theater Company
Danielle Mendoza as Whatsername is in a battle for her man's soul, and she's not backing down easily, in "Green Day's American Idiot."

"Don’t want to be an American idiot, one nation controlled by the media," laments Johnny.

The three go their separate ways: Johnny to the city, Tunny to the Army and the Middle East, and Will having to stay put when his girlfriend Heather (Melissa Baxter) gets pregnant.

The show is staged as an opera with the majority of the story being told in the music and only a smattering of dialogue. This makes the show roll like a locomotive from one number to another, the actors hardly taking a breath. The minimalist, gray, urban set is constantly livened up by singers and dancers, as well as a couple of props on wheels that seemed to teeter on the edge of falling over at times — along with members of the cast who were riding them — as they were sped around the stage.

Christine Herrera’s choreography is a master class in synchronization, and she made full use of her company of 21 and the whole stage, ensuring that the urban grayness of the set was constantly filled with excitement.

Anyone who was alive and listening to the radio in the 2000s will recognize many of the songs from the multi-platinum American Idiot album — "American Idiot," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "21 Guns" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" are all given the full punk-rock treatment. Pisacane plays Johnny with rebellious, punkish fervor, and as a musician himself, plays the acoustic guitar parts authentically.

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I asked him how much of the music he knew already, and he said it was the first album he had bought with his own money. Both Johnny, played by Pisacane, and Will, played by Pappu, picked up guitars to join in with the band.

The friends go their separate ways as they sing, "This is the dawning of the rest of our lives."

As Johnny goes to the city he meets St. Jimmy, played with wild-eyed enthusiasm by Sean Okuniewicz. St. Jimmy plies Johnny with drugs, and he seems to be in danger of sliding into oblivion until he meets the lovely Whatshername (Danielle Mendoza), who drags him back from the brink.

Will, on the other hand, is shipped off to the Middle East with the Army and is wounded. He too meets someone, in the form of Extraordinary Girl (Taylor Sanders). Eventually the three friends all come home and are reunited. We’re not told what happens next in their lives, but they seem to have gotten some of their rebelliousness out of their systems.

Or maybe they realize you can still be a rebel and live in suburbia? Johnny says "This is my rage. This is my love. This is my town. This is my city. This is my life."

Wake me up when September ends.

Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at

Caitlin Burns
Susan Mah Photography / City Lights Theater Company
Caitlin Burns and the "Green Day's American Idiot" ensemble rock out on stage at City Lights in San Jose, where the show is running July 14 through August 21, 2016.
Baxter, Pappu
Susan Mah Photography / City Lights Theater Company
Melissa Baxter as Heather, left, and Tarif Pappu as Will share some beer in "Green Day's American Idiot" at City Lights in San Jose, where the show is running July 14 through August 21, 2016.
American Idiot cast
Susan Mah Photography / City Lights Theater Company
The cast of "Green Day's American Idiot" lets it rip at City Lights in San Jose, where the show is running July 14 through August 21, 2016.