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Tony Taccone's Skinny Red Tie

September 17, 2009

idiot.jpegBerkeley isn't known for its fashion prowess. Most of the residents of this sunny, west coast university town schlump about in ill-fitting jeans or baggy shorts, flip-flops and old T-shirts. To dress up in Berkeley is to put on a hoodie.

Last night was therefore completely out of the ordinary, as hundreds of people rocked up to Berkeley Repertory Theatre dressed to the elevens (forget the nines and even tens) for opening night of the world premiere of American Idiot, a new rock musical directed by Michael Mayer based on the songs of punk band Green Day.

It was quite a scene. There were girls in figure-hugging, hot pink leather dresses and four-inch stiletto heels and plenty of spiky-haired guys wearing eye-liner, tight jeans, jackets and hastily-knotted ties. In the midst of it all was Berkeley Rep's formidable artistic director, Tony Taccone, looking like a Green Day groupie in a punkie black ensemble offset by a gamine red, shiny, skinny tie. Only his chipmunk grin and slightly sheepish air set him apart from the too-cool-for-school crowd hanging out outside the theatre before curtain.

I'm not surprised that Taccone's face registered both pride and a measure of embarrassment -- I reckon the event was quite unlike anything that the city of Berkeley has seen in quite some time, both from a commercial and creative perspective. The paparazzi was out in full force, snapping the Green Day boys at all opportunities. Corporate sponsorship e.g. in the form of huge Levis' signs projected on the sides of buildings, was rife. The post-show party didn't remotely resemble the kind of affair one usually sees in the non-profit theatre world, namely a few white-haired people chatting for half an hour over a sweaty cheese plate and plastic tumblers of cheap red wine. The "heroine chic" decor was inspired by the show. There was tons of classy food. One of Berkeley Rep's stages had been take over by a DJ who span punk and garage rock music before a mosh-pit-filled huddle of sweaty bodies. There were swag bags with stuff people actually might want in them (such as Green Day's new album on CD), old-fashioned pinball machines and a fussball table. You could even get a free haircut and have your photo taken as if standing on the show's set.

The soiree basically smacked of two things: 1. A desire to impress, and 2. A desire to impress enough to get American Idiot to Broadway.

I don't doubt that the man in the skinny red tie knows what he's doing. Following the success on Broadway of Passing Strange and various other New York-bound missives sent by Berkeley Rep in recent years, Taccone appears to have his eye on the ultimate prize: a commercially triumphant musical of Spring Awakening proportions. He looks like he wants to be the Des McAnuff of Northern California.

I didn't personally like Spring Awakening -- found it very derivative and the songs didn't inspire me at all. American Idiot, though cliche-ridden and lacking in a storyline, has one great advantage over director Michael Mayer's previous Broadway hit: the soundtrack. Green Day's music hits you in the gut and tears a big hole in your spleen. The kids'll really go for it in New York, I think. It won't be too long before that skinny red tie gets a second airing on the other side of the country.

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