Specifically, my task is to evaluate the three performers I've seen in the splashy, creepy role of St. Jimmy. As you may know, St. Jimmy is the dark and glamorous friend - or represents the dark and tawdry part of the psyche - of our protagonist, Johnny. As Johnny tries to make his way alone in the big city, to find love and success and an outlet for his strangely muted brand of rage, St. Jimmy alternately commands and cajoles him into a different kind of life where pain, rage and pleasure all give way to the numbing power of intravenous drugs. There's plenty of room for personal style in the role, and so it is that I saw a different St. Jimmy pouring forth from each of these three talented performers: the role's originator, Tony Vincent (whom I saw at an April 3 preview performance and then again on May 16); his understudy, Andrew Call (September 18); and the show's co-creator and legendary Green Day front man, Billie Joe Armstrong (September 29; all of the performances were at 8:00 pm).
Tony Vincent, who originated the role last fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and re-created it for Broadway this spring, brings unmatched energy to his performance. Vincent's interpretation is the least subtle and most commanding of the three, and certainly the loudest. (That is not in the least intended as criticism.) Terrifying and dismissive, he doesn't just lead Johnny astray - he bludgeons him and drags him astray. Vincent shines most in the ultra-high-energy songs given to him in this energetic score: when he bursts down the stairs singing the breathless "St. Jimmy," there is no question who is in command (of the stage and, more importantly, of Johnny's fate). When that command seems to be slipping later in the show, he easily re-claims it with another song that showcases Vincent's uniquely imposing voice and demeanor, "Know Your Enemy." Vincent is just a tad less effective when he's not singing, and his emotional range is narrower than it could be, but overall this is a role that calls for a take-no-prisoners performance and Vincent does not disappoint. (I think he deserved a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor; at any rate, I know he gave a more effective and appropriate performance than one other nominated actor I saw during the season.)
Finally, a comment or two is in order regarding St. Jimmy's physical appearance for each performance. Tony Vincent was decked out in full goth/s&m regalia, complete with black combat boots and chains galore, and sported a radical half-shaved, half-jet black hairdo. Andrew Call wore the same costumes and approximated the hairstyle effect by sweeping his dirty blond bangs down over his eyes, leaving a buzzed layer exposed on the side. But Billie Joe went with the punk/hipster look he's now famous for, with canvas shoes, tight black jeans, white jacket, and dark spiky hair.
In the end, I won't be coy about the fact that I appreciated the subtlety of Andrew Call's performance the most. But Tony Vincent is a vocal force of nature, and of course no experience could replace seeing Billie Joe perform in a work that, without a hint of sarcasm, he has lovingly called "my baby." You can see him on stage through Sunday evening's performance, after which the understudies (Call and Joshua Kobek) will cover the role of St. Jimmy until Vincent returns on October 12. My suggestion is that you go to telecharge.com right now and make sure you get tickets to see all of these terrific performances! (Not that I'm an obsessed fanboy or anything.)
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