North Carolina Theatre recently launched the newly released rock-opera American Idiot, based on the album of the same name recorded by punk-rock band Green Day in 2004. Presented in partnership with Broadway Series South in the Progress Energy Center’s Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh, this show opened on Broadway on April 20, 2010. NC Theatre’s production opened on January 31.

For anyone who can remember being rebellious and dissatisfied in his or her youth, this show is as empowering as it is shocking and emotionally complicated. From drinking and taking drugs to depicting the war in the Middle East and the controversy around it to extremely realistic premarital sex in the middle of the stage, American Idiot covers a lot of ground.

The show is structured more like a rock concert than a musical, since the songs are all from a rock album. The focus in this production was obviously on the music and the emotional connection to the songs. The opening number, “American Idiot,” begins with strobe lights, TV screens with flashing colors and messages, and an explosion of electric guitar and drums, taking Green Day fans back to 2004 when this anthem for the rebellious teenager was first released. It should be noted that many of the older spectators who aren’t familiar with Green Day – and may have come to the show because they are season ticket holders, totally unaware of what they were about to experience – fled the auditorium during “Give Me Novacaine,” which featured three simultaneous scenes: Will trying to deal with the pain of his girlfriend leaving him, Tunny serving in the army and being shot in the leg, and Johnny and Whatsername having sex. Needless to say, viewer discretion is advised.

Green Day’s album, unlike many punk-rock albums, has some structure: the songs feature related characters and a plotline – a vague, tentative one, but a plotline nonetheless. It is relatively easy, then, to string the songs along and use little to no dialogue in between to convey the plot. Some of the interpretations of the songs were more literal than others, which might have made some scenes a little tacky, but the deep, emotional songs like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and “When It’s Time,” an original song composed for the show, more than made up for them. It is also something amazing to hear a simple rock tune sung emotionally in four-part harmony, and there’s certainly something to be said for the high quality of dedication the performers have for this show. At least seven members of the original cast loved the show so much that they came to NC Theatre to perform it again after playing on Broadway!

American Idiot, for the viewer who is prepared to see drug use, sex, violence, and take a seat in this emotional roller coaster ride, is more than a show: it’s an experience. Even some members of the audience were head-banging or swaying to the music (or singing along, in my case)! Don’t expect to compare it to other traditional musicals, because it is something wholly different, but if you enjoy Green Day or punk-rock or want insight into the life of teens and younger adults trying to find themselves, this is a great opportunity to do so. American Idiot runs through February 5 at Memorial Auditorium. For details, see the sidebar.