There probably hasn't been a true rock opera produced for the stage since "The Who's Tommy" -- "Rent" and "Spring Awakening" come from more pop traditions in our book and basically amount to musical theater scores with electric guitar on top -- but Green Day's "American Idiot," which just had its world premiere at Berkeley Rep, definitely qualifies. The music is urgent, driving, and loud. Whatever you feel about Green Day, there's a theatricality and consistent narrative element to their music that lends itself well to staging, and it's accomplished in this show with a lot of art and only a little of the cheesiness that many associate with musicals.
Berkeley Rep's production of "American Idiot" was directed by Michael Mayer, who also directed "Spring Awakening" on Broadway, and it adds to the album's story of The Jesus of Suburbia two other threads about his friends, their girlfriends, and an ensemble of twelve, as well as new music from Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown." One friend, Will, gets his girlfriend Heather pregnant and remains on his couch getting stoned for the next year or so, and the other friend Tunny ends up in Iraq after being inspired by an Army recruitment commercial on TV. Meanwhile, Johnny (the Jesus figure from the album), goes to the big city to shoot heroin and delve into the punk scene.