Bringing the rage to the stage: American Idiot the musical hits Boston

american-idiot the musicalSex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll – what’s a poor boy to do with such problems?

The answer, apparently, is sing.

Having kicked off the 2012 Broadway season in Boston, Mass. American Idiot! the musical closed its weeklong run at the Boston Opera House Sunday, and audience-goers were left with a taste of punk-rock opera at its finest.

Though performed more as a series of vignettes instead of as a traditional, structured story, the show is popularly known for taking its inspiration from the music of the rock band Green Day, and culls the bulk of its material from the group’s 2004 release American Idiot as well as its platinum 2009 follow-up 21st Century Breakdown.

Starring actor Van Hughes, who recently starred in the Broadway edition of American Idiot! opposite Green Day’s own Billie Joe Armstrong, the performance tells the story of three friends (Johnny, Will, and Tunny), normal guys on the cusp of the 21st century before reality crashes in on them from all angles.

For Johnny (Van Hughes), reality means meeting a girl called “Whatsername” (Gabrielle McClinton) and falling in with the charismatic yet self-destructive “St. Jimmy” (Joshua Kobak). While such a role places the actor undertaking it under a heavy burden, Van Hughes ably rose to the occasion and committed himself fully to his character. Whether moving from tragic figure to comedian to bedside balladeer (sometimes in the space of a single scene), the young actor was a force to reckoned with and even risked several falls while vaulting energetically over pieces of the stage setting.

Meanwhile, as a counterpoint to Van Hughes’ anarchic Johnny, the role of Tunny (portrayed by actor Scott J. Campbell) was a sobering look at the life of one of the many soldiers who spent time serving the U.S. in a conflict overseas. Though eventually losing his leg for his country, Tunny also meets an “Extraordinary Girl” (Nicci Claspell) during his travels and returns home changed but still proud.

Campbell successfully balanced the difficult nature of his character’s choice to join the military and his eventual handicapped homecoming, and did so with a strong singing voice and dignity that left the crowd firmly in his corner even when the loss of his limb was revealed after an extended aerial dance number that was as graceful as it was endearing.

Lastly, for the character of Will (played by actor Jake Epstein) many of his adventures found themselves confined to the setting of his living room couch. After discovering his young girlfriend (Leslie McDonel) is pregnant early on in the story, the idealistic young man is unable to leave home with his friends and instead hears from them in letters, all while his budding family starts to crumble around him.

Though it would have been easy to portray such a character as a deadbeat with no direction, Epstein actually accomplished the difficult task of making the audience relate to a young man who in choosing to stay behind and raise a child also loses his own freedom and much of the spirit that was compelling him to live in the first place. Also, when finally reunited with his child during the musical’s finale the moment felt completely genuine, which as any actor will tell you, is no mean feat.

Watch a montage of scenes from “American Idiot! the musical” here:

In terms of direction and stage setting, American Idiot! was also a success. Consisting mostly of second-hand furniture, scaffolding, and metal girders straight out of the Rent playbook – the scenery was a fitting vision that played to the strengths of the characters’ lost children mentality. Additionally, the abundant use of television screens especially in the show’s opening was brutally effective in not only detailing how media-driven many of our lives have become but also acting as a stark reminder of just how much our country has gone through in the 10 plus years since 9/11.

For sound, the inclusion of a live band on stage, as well as the actors’ own skilled musicianship, was a refreshing sight to behold and hear. Van Hughes especially proved convincing as a budding rocker, and the whole cast’s rendition of the Green Day hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” during a second curtain call was an unexpected treat. Even a clever line by a character, which mentioned going to see a band that “probably sucked” was used as a moment to break the fourth wall and featured several humorous double-takes exchanged by the actors and musicians in the wings.

The music itself too made a strong case towards revisiting the Green Day catalogue. Despite the accolades that immediately come to mind when thinking of the album that started everything, Billie Joe Armstrong and company appear to have a natural touch for writing for the stage. Heck, go see them live in concert. Anyone who has can tell you that the boys from Berkeley have a flair for the dramatic. And it’s worth noting that much of the material included in American Idiot! that hadn’t previously appeared on a Green Day release could easily have found itself on any of the band’s releases since 1997’s Nimrod.

But what about all that sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll?

In the end, the truth is simple. We have lived through extraordinary times, and our moments are already history. But, hey, isn’t that always the way? It’s the art that we make from our memories that matters. The past may not always be pretty, but for survivors it’s the story of their lives. And most wouldn’t have it any other way.

For more information on “American Idiot!” the musical and to see future tour dates please visit www.americanidiotthemusical.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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“Behind the Beat: Lycans on the Rise” Wolfman Conspiracy – January 26, 2012

“Behind the Beat: Lycans on the Rise” Wolfman Conspiracy – January 26, 2012

Album review – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” – January 26, 2012

Album review – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” – January 26, 2012

 

Not your mother’s MTV: American Sign Language meets music videos

The music video starts like any other.

A lone figure appears silhouetted in the rain, and then the scene is quickly cut to a view of a couple locked in a loving embrace. Next the light changes and the singer is isolated, looking straight at the camera and the first verse slowly begins. Only this time the artist is doing more than mouthing the words. He’s using sign language too. And that is when you realize this is no ordinary music video.

What you’ve been watching is one of a growing number of American Sign Language-friendly music videos. These videos, which have quickly been gaining a foothold on the Internet for the past several years, are not only for deaf citizens but also are usually produced by and star those with the disability.

For example, the ASL-version of The White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends,” which was promoted by CBS News in November, actually was produced by an organization called the Deaf Professional Arts Network. Additionally, deaf actor Sean Berdy, who has starred on the television show “Switched At Birth,” has appeared in his own ASL-music video for the Enrique Iglesias’ song “Hero.”

Watch deaf actor Sean Berdy perform an ASL version of the song “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias here:

While popularly known for producing the White Stripes’ video, which stars a group of deaf youngsters acting out the aforementioned song in and around a schoolyard, D-PAN also creates documentaries and provides other video-based services that are the product of their unique team of artists, 80 percent of which are deaf or hard of hearing. Though music videos are what have gotten them in the news, D-PAN’s real goals are promoting scholarships for those with hearing disabilities and reaching out to deaf youth through a D-PAN initiative that encourages the pursuit of a variety of career goals.

Still, in the end the message remains the same. Everyone should have the right to enjoy music, and whether one can hear or not makes no difference. Plus, with the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube the process has never been easier for organizations like D-PAN to promote the feeling that deaf people the world over are not alone. Heck, it even turns out that most of them like to sing. And with ASL-friendly music videos, everyone can see them shine.

For more information on other ASL music videos and to learn more about their creation and more please visit the website for the Deaf Professional Arts Network here: www.d-pan.org.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Me so…happy? – ’90s rap group 2 Live Crew reunite

2 Live Crew, the rap group famously known for its battles with the law over obscenity charges as well as the popularity of its controversial song “Me So Horny,” is returning to the stage this summer.

And don’t worry kids, the individual members are still as nasty as they want to be. Just ask group founder Luther Campbell.

According to Rollings Stone Magazine, Campbell announced Saturday that 2 Live Crew would be reuniting for a tour this summer while he was on hand at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah promoting a short film called “The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.”

“I just can’t wait to just start practicing. That’s going to be a blast,” he said. “We’re going to perform the songs and everybody’s going to be excited. Some of the older people of our generation will be able to tell their kids, ‘You’re staying home tonight, we’re going to see 2 Live Crew and shake our booty!’”

Watch the official video for 2 Live Crew’s risqué hit “Me So Horny” here. *WARNING – this video contains mature content*

However, nostalgic feelings aside, in a recent column written in the Miami News Times Campbell also admitted that his group’s reunion was about more than having a good time. It was about lack of recognition and proper respect for some of the shining lights of early hip-hop.

He said:

“Today, Miami booty music still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Last year, 2 Live Crew and other old school Florida rappers were not invited to the Legends of Hip-Hop Tour featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Dougie Fresh, Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane and Kurtis Blow.

Based on the success of their tour, I decided to put together the Lollapolooza of Bass music. Dj Magic Mike, the 69 Boyz, Quad City Djs, Dj Kool, JT Money and Poison Clan, and Sir Mix-A-Lot are joining 2 Live Crew for a 20-city tour this summer. All these artists sold millions of records and sold out shows across the country and the world, but they have never gotten any recognition.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t run into Cuban and Jewish lawyers and doctors in their mid-thirties, men and women, who tell me how they loved jamming to 2 Live Crew as teenagers. Anyone who comes to the show is going to be partying their ass off for three straight hours. This reunion is going to be bigger than David Lee Roth and Van Halen getting back together after 27 years apart. I’m very excited about it.”

For more information on 2 Live Crew please visit www.myspace.com/official2livecrew.

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No more ‘Stormy Weather,’ singer Etta James passes away at 73

And we’re back! After spending the last few days getting to the root of some various technological problems, the Northeast Underground is back online. However, I only wish it was under better circumstances.

Sadly, the Underground has returned to note the passing of the legendary American blues singer Etta James. According to a report by Rolling Stone magazine, James succumbed to complications from leukemia Friday after battling serious health problems for years.

Popularly known for her hits “At Last,” “Stormy Weather” and more, the 73-year-old icon was hospitalized in December and spent her last few weeks fighting dementia and kidney failure as well as symptoms of chronic leukemia.

Listen to Beyonce perform “At Last” live during a tribute to Etta James in 2008 here:

Despite a turbulent life that saw her sidetracked by heroin use in the ‘60s and required to make several visits to rehabilitation and psychiatric facilities over the years, James was also in and out of the charts. ABC news reports she was also elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Speaking with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1997, James looked back on her life and appeared to have no regrets even amidst a rocky past.

“Life’s been rough,” she said. “But life’s been good. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I would live it the exact same way.”

For more information on Etta James and to listen to samples of her music please visit www.legacyrecordings.com/artists/etta-james.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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“Behind the Beat: No Alternative” Plan B – January 19, 2012

“Behind the Beat: No Alternative” Plan B – January 19, 2012