I had forgotten just how brilliant Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ 2004 concept album really is. It stands on its own as a resurgence in energy from a band that had lulled into a kind of fat Elvis ‘bloaty period’ and then – BOOM! – somehow they came back with a massively energetic and engaging tour de force , ‘in your face’, socio -political tome. It’s the disaffected voice of a generation sick to death of political lies, media manipulation, the Gulf war and the Bush administration. For men in their thirties (back then, anyway) they totally get away with the teenage punk- influenced punchiness and angst represented in this rock opera . Think relentless energy and pathos ripping through every song.
It is this which forms the very solid, yet fiery, basis of the musical of the same name. It starts with real life flickering footage of news reports about 9/11 and political speeches made by Bush et co around that time – lending to a sense of impending doom and ‘side taking’: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” opines George W Bush. It underpins a sinister tone we are now so familiar with – even more so now – in a post-Snowden whistleblowing era.
This is the set up: manipulation and spin, we are all being lied to etc. We all know it is happening and are powerless to cut through it. Standard. Oh and the public is either misinformed, apathetic or simply stupid – as a reporter on the flickering news screen asks a clueless American citizen, “Where should we invade next?” “Italy” he answers. Um.
But back to the plot: the songs are what successfully transpose ‘American Idiot’ to the stage, gluing together stories about three bored, apathetic teenagers in a post-George W. Bush America. They seek escape and adventure, but this journey to the city – ‘My city’ – goes horribly wrong as each of them face personal choices which have far–reaching consequences : one is forced into growing up fast thanks to impending fatherhood, one descends into drug abuse and another suffers horribly in war. Their original youthful hopes and dreams zig zag awkwardly and violently though to adulthood to a painful conclusion and a hard-won ‘wisdom’ of sorts. One flaw: it’s really a story about boys: the girls are supporting characters at best but, hey, this is about the disaffection of young men and was written by the same.
As with all musical theatre it can feel a tad unreal and even a bit ‘stage school’ in places given the subject matter. But you have to give yourself a shake and remember that this is musical theatre and not a rock show, hence its very form has to be more simplistic, gesticulatory and over-enunciated and even symbolic . None of this dampens the enjoyment to be had from ‘American Idiot’ – we already know the score is amazing (yet another listen to the album as I write this) , the acting and performances were vibrant and energetic. The direction was good, the set was minimal but completely right for the production with flickering TV screens and news reports underscoring our modern attention deficit disorders.
The socio political truths revealed here and the dramatised personal agonies notwithstanding – this was an enjoyable show: a less ‘angry’ and more a ‘warm and perky’ experience, I would say. It was made even more enjoyable (and dare I say ‘sweet’) to see young kids and teenagers attend tonight on their own and with parents / grandparents .The cast themselves would have been very young when the original album came out but they conveyed the themes with true vigour earning them a sincere standing ovation at the end. Alexis Gerred and Alice Stockoe were especially impressive.
The only thing that could have been even better would be that Green Day themselves form the key cast performing the show. That would have been unspeakably brilliant. (Ah the nostalgic 40+ rock lover’s dream!) As it stands, the young actors did an excellent job and represented Green Day’s energy very well indeed. “… I hope you had the time of your life” the ensemble cast sing at the end.
And do you know, I sort of did!
Cast: Alexis Gerred, Alice Stokoe, Matt Thorpe Director: Racky Plews Writer: Green Day Theatre: The Churchill, Bromley Duration: 115 mins Dates: 30th March – 2nd April 2016