Green Day have spent two decades honing their craft and pleasing music fans with their incredible work. TheirAmerican Idiot album brought them to a newer and younger generation of fans. With rock music running deep through their veins, the last band we would have predicted to give us a musical, would be these guys, but who would ever underestimate them, their talent and their creativity?
American Idiot – The Musical, is an unabashed rock opera in the mould of the The Who’s Tommy. It is a stage adaptation, co-written by Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer. It is a winner of two Tony Awards and the 2010 Grammy Award winner for Best Musical Show Album. American Idiot premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (home of Green Day), in September 2009, before making its debut on Broadway in April 2010, running for a year. The time has come for it to now embark on a lengthy British tour and for their British fans, this could not have come any sooner. We feel as if we’ve been waiting for it to make its way to our shores for a very long time and we had a touch of the green-eyed monster, knowing that theatre fans across the pond were being treated to seeing this and having the opportunity to hear Green Day’s songs performing live whenever they wanted! With huge smiles, we found ourselves in the Hammersmith Apollo, waiting patiently for the story and musical to kick-off, to see if it was worth the long wait.
American Idiot’s plot focuses around Johnny, Will and Tunny. They are a hapless trio of anti-heroes and teenage rebels, desperate for a cause and a reason to have something to believe in, in post 9/11 small-town America. As one impulsively joins the military and one sinks into alcoholic inertia, Johnny becomes the play’s focus as he juggles the twin imperatives of love and heroin. Angst-ridden Green Day anthems such as Boulevard of Broken Dreams andWake Me Up When September Ends lend a charged poignancy to the drama’s bumpy narrative, while a bizarre scene wherein a hallucinating, war-wounded Tunny is treated 20ft above the stage by a flying nurse named the Extraordinary Girl is genuinely spectacular. We found ourselves so mesmerised by the cast and the songs, that at times the storyline faded into the background and we found it a little confusing to keep a track of what was happening, that is perhaps our only criticism of what is a superb production.
The touring cast give a dynamic and exuberant performance. At times, the choreography is simply outstanding, unbelievable and a feast for the eyes. It is so slick, polished and perfect. There are no deliberate stand out alone actors, as the entire cast are outstanding, channelling believable angst and rebellion with remarkable talent and accuracy. For us, a stand-out moment was when the cast all got together to sing 21 Guns together. This was dramatic, beautiful and the harmonies were perfect and heartfelt.
The set design reminded us of a visit to New York, circa 2005, as it was similar in style to the set of another classic/unconventional musical, which is RENT. The set is grungy, dark, a little dirty and dangerous looking, but it’s washed over by love and hope, littered over and complements the frustrations and angst shown in the given performance. Mayer’s direction captures that dark era’s brittle paranoia as George Bush and Dick Cheney stare malignly down at the gyrating cast from the banks of TV screens surrounding the stage.
The music is provided by a live band who are visible on-stage. This is the first time that we’ve seen a live band on-stage with the cast and not hidden away in the pit! This is also the first time that we’ve ever seen a (deliberate Billie-Joe lookey-likey, complete with black t-shirt, tie, eye-liner and a mop of black hair) musical director completely rock, in every sense of the word. Other songs in the production include Green Day’s mega-hit Holiday, along with several songs from their 2009 release 21st Century Breakdown and even an unreleased love song, When It’s Time is featured, a real treat for fans.
American Idiot is a challenging piece that bravely eschews the easy option of a clichéd/happy ending. It’s another unexpected triumph for a band that consistently take more left turns than they are ever given credit for. If you love rock songs/shows with a bit of edge, then you will love this.
After the closing curtain and the cast take their bows, the curtain rises again, to a ‘fake encore’, perhaps? Beyond the curtain reveals the entire cast, with guitars stuck to their hands, with which they sing Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). A few of the cast take it in turns to come up to the front of the stage with their guitars to perform rock-god little solo pieces, before high-fiving the audience sitting around the front rows. “I hope you had the time of your life” they sing en-mass. We did, thank you, very much. Phenomenal. Definitely worth the wait and we’re definitely booking tickets to see this again.