'Broadway Idiot' review: Superficial Green Day show documentary goes backstage

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Getting a Broadway show up and running is a journey often fraught with drama, hurt feelings and failure. Happy endings are rare and best appreciated if we know the struggle, revisions, hard work and tough casting and re-casting decisions it took to achieve success.

Much of that is missing from "Broadway Idiot," a tuneful but extremely superficial slice of cinematic triumphalism celebrating the conversion of Green Day's 2004 concept album, "American Idiot," into a stage musical that ran for 422 performances at Broadway's St. James Theatre. Producers had to update a Bush-era screed about suburban angst and post-9/11 American ennui into something that felt fresh in 2009-10.

Though we're treated to some wonderful moments and we develop a pretty thorough understanding of the back story on the songs and the era that spawned this angry, defiant, anarchic song cycle, there's never a discouraging word uttered in "Broadway Idiot's" 80 minutes. 

We don't see the casting process, just a little of how the creative team turned songs into character and story ideas. We skim past the mixed-to-bad reviews, the pain of changing actors -- re-casting for this reason or that. There's little drama to the big moment when Green Day gives its permission for the show to proceed. There's just Billie Joe Armstrong and the other two guys in the band (totally in the background), sitting in a rehearsal studio, beaming, slack-jawed at the conversion of "Last Night on Earth" from rock ballad to a moving, choral moment. 

"Oh," Armstrong grins. "This can work."

Nobody argues. Nobody's feelings are hurt when Green Day frontman and singer-songwriter Armstrong takes over the lead role on Broadway, after others have busted their humps to get it there. (That we know of, anyway.)

The big revelation here is that Armstrong, a Bay Area punk who formed and leads an American band that is the only serious modern contender for U2's "most relevant rock act" title, knows Broadway and sang show tunes, on stage, as a child. Director Doug Hamilton, a PBS vet, wisely sticks this information in the later acts. It's like that moment we learned gangster rapper Tupac Shakur was indulged with acting and ballet lessons as a child -- a bit of a head-snap.

The "American Idiot" album -- with later songs such as "Last Night on Earth" and "21 Guns" added to the stage production -- has the thematic weight to carry a musical. The film captures the magic and manic energy of the performances, the inventive choreography and spine-tingling tunes. 

But surely there was more struggle to getting it on stage than we see here. Stage director and book co-writer Michael Mayer may say "I don't read the reviews," and the cast can agree with him. That doesn't make them go away, the way this show did long before entering Broadway's record books. 

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BROADWAY IDIOT
(Grade: C-plus)
Cast: Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, Rebecca Naomi Jones, John Gallagher Jr. 
Directed by Doug Hamilton. A FilmBuff release.
Running time: 1:21
MPAA rating: Unrated, with lots of profanity

Photo/Video credit: FilmBuff
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