I am not an American Idiot, Greg Zittel told me

I went today to see American Idiot at the Ahmansohn theatre with my 14 year old. I thought it would be one of those bridge musicals that we both got something out of and made going together special. It started out like a wild let-loose afternoon of rock music, and then… the rest of the show happened. For all it’s spectacle…it bored me.  It lacked that thing I go to the theatre for: communication.

The actors tried really hard, and I’m guessing the non-Green Day songs were about something but as I sit here 4 hours later, I can’t remember a single song lyric. Most of the lyrics were buried under the bass and guitar of the band so despite their great voices we couldn’t get much of what was being sung.  There were maybe three paragraphs of spoken words, the rest was songs that led into songs.  I do consider myself pretty smart about theatre and I cannot tell you what that show was about. I can tell you generally what it was about but specifically…? I got nothing.

The show was a surprise date for my daughter and she admitted she was hoping to see it when we finally arrived in the lobby from our rain delayed drive downtown. It was all excitement before the show. On rainy drive home she tried to piece the show together and was very casual about it. She never asked me what I thought and our discussion of it lasted a minute or two. Then…done.

A moment a go I had to think of what I had done today and was shocked to realize that I went to a Broadway show that had almost no impact on me.  That’s revolutionary to me. They always hit home. They always deliver something. I feel like an idiot really. I must have missed something.

It reminded me of the times when you see a bad movie and you can just tell the actors were left for dead by the director and the script wasn’t a friend either.  The show was loud and constant and angst-ridden, and there was sex and drugs and loads of cursing and in what will be my only solid memory of the show, it closed with a full company acoustic guitar serenade. It just felt like a lot of effort with no focus.

Which brings me to this sad news…One of the biggest influences on me as a student passed away last week. His name was Greg Zittel and he was a hammer for specifics. He taught us our sense of truth was sacred and to never violate it. Maybe it’s snobbery to think every show needs what he taught me in order to make sense, but my 14 year old didn’t get the show either.  I salute anyone who puts art into the world so my criticism isn’t based in, “why did they waste my time?” It’s based in, “How did this miss the mark for me? Many people really liked it.”  Luckily, art isn’t a one-style-fits-all arena and as Mr. Zittel would say, “That’s what makes you, you!”

Mr. Zittel made a lot of actors better. He will be missed. I love that he taught me that I am allowed to question art and simply because something is a hit, it doesn’t mean I’m not an artist because I disliked it. He forced us to see that who we are is more important than which successful people or shows we might align ourselves with. To a 19 year old trying not feel like an idiot for thinking he had a ounce of talent which warranted the attempt at something as overwhelming as acting school in NYC,  he made the technique all so clear and useful, and, he made me feel like I was right, I did belong there.

May god bless your family Mr. Zittel, you left the world much better than you found it.



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