The young adults in the rock musical “American Idiot” may suffer from alienation and malaise, but they apparently don’t have a problem with vertigo. In Keegan Theatre’s pleasant if rather diligent-looking production, based on Green Day’s Grammy Award-winning album, the performers repeatedly perch and clamber on enormous poster-covered frames that lean against the upper level of the set. The conceit underscores the precariousness of the rebellious characters’ social standing and emotional health. It’s post-adolescent life as climbing wall.
The jungle-gym-like sequences add resonance and visual interest to the show, directed by Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea and featuring a hardworking cast of young (and/or young-looking) actors with varying degrees of vocal prowess. Over the course of a tuneful-enough 90 minutes, accompanied by a very creditable band (on the set’s upper level), the cast conjures a tale of angst and growing pains in a post-9/11 world. (Jake Null is the production’s music director.)
Seen on Broadway earlier this decade and on a national tour in Washington two years ago, “American Idiot” follows three friends chafing against the parameters of the suburban milieu in which they have grown up. While Johnny (Harrison Smith) drifts into drug use in the big city, Tunny (Hasani Allen) enlists in the military and gets wounded abroad. Meanwhile, Will (Josh Sticklin) stays home with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Molly Janiga). Hearts are broken. Lessons are learned. Discontent is voiced.
In the Keegan incarnation, a parade of narrative or dreamlike images — a military hospital, a line of people wearing underwear, a rite-like sharing of heroin — trundles steadily along to such Green Day hits as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” In the pivotal role of Johnny, Smith is an appealingly disaffected hero, with a manic vibe and smudged guyliner beneath his bugged-out eyes. Allen and Sticklin create bland but earnest portraits of his pals.
The three male leads display limited vocal power and control, assets they will perhaps develop later in their careers. (Allen and Smith are students at Catholic University.) The best singing comes from Janiga’s Heather and the charismatic Eben Logan, who plays Johnny’s city fling, Whatsername. (Debra Kim Sivigny designed the costumes, which include lots of punk and teen-deadbeat looks.)
The figure of St. Jimmy (Christian Montgomery), the Mephistophelian tempter who lures Johnny to heroin, seems wan in this production. Another weak point is the dancing, which abounds in repeated sullen-slacker gestures, like the flopping-hair effect the women achieve by pitching their heads forward and back every other minute. (Rachel Leigh Dolan choreographed.) The dancing always looks to be a marshaling of concerted, much-rehearsed effort. But, then, no one ever said putting on a rock musical was child’s play.
Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. 202-265-3767. keegantheatre.com.
Dates: Through April 16.