Following in (if it's very lucky) the Broadway-directed footsteps of American Idiot, Girlfriend, is the latest album musical to fist pump its way across the Berkeley Rep stage.
We can call it an album musical to distinguish it from a Rock Opera (Tommy, Hair, Passing Strange) or a Movical (Billy Elliot, Spamalot, Young Frankenstein) or the Juke Box Musical, (Mama Mia, Jersey Boys). And we call it an album musical because in these days of 99 cent iTunes downloads, the music of concept and "seminal" albums has a unifying coherence that's worth keeping intact.
Folks who love Matthew Sweet's 1991 album, Girlfriend, would agree with critics who rated it as one of the top 100 pop albums of the '90s. One critic wrote that Girlfriend was the pretty record that everyone played when they were pretending to be listening to Nirvana.
If you were one of those Matthew Sweet fans, then this play, a sweet and simple chamber musical, no doubt had you at "Girlf--." I'm not sure why I wasn't listening to this music in the '90s. My radio dial was permanently tuned to Alice Radio where all good indie rock fans were stationed. I was all about Sinead and REM and it would seem I would have been a sucker for this record, which Sweet said was the outcome of his divorce. But downloading the songs now, I don't feel particularly warm or fuzzy. Or particularly impressed with the music. Or nostalgic. And for these types of gimmick and/or homage spin-offs, for which the play is itself an afterthought, the loyalty to the source material's the thing.
Like American Idiot, which grafts a plot -- or at least some character-driven action -- onto Green Day's "seminal" 2004 post-punk album of the same name, Girlfriend is a slip of a two-character play built around a record. American Idiot was mostly a 90-minute music video that rocked with rage against the general suckiness of everything.