Whilst American Idiot may not be traditional theatre fare, the collision of Green Day‘s rock-punk opera brings a burst of energy, and inadvertently life, to the boundaries of the musical genre.
Set to the backdrop of 9/11, American Idiot brings to life the challenges facing, what is now, generations. Conflicting images of our world conveyed through the propaganda of media outlets. Through American Idiot we explore the stories of three friends as they attempt to create their paths in the world.
With the obvious benefit of a fantastic soundtrack, there is a sense that this is a production solely due to Green Day’s concept album American Idiot. Following the story of Jesus of Suburbia, this on stage realisation is translated with full commitment to the grunge era.
Sarah Perk’s design enables the showcasing of a live band, ensuring Green Day’s tracks are showcased to their best. The design also allows the journey of three friends to be played out effectively with changing spaces.
And so we become absorbed in the stories of Johnny (Tom Milner), Will (Samuel Pope) and Tunny (Joshua Dowen) in their search for a better life. Will doesn’t get further than the bus stop out of their small town. For Johnny and Tunny the escape creates disillusionment leading to separate paths.
Through both, the best of Green Day’s tracks are realised. Tunny’s journey to Iraq and its consequences bring Before the Labotomy startlingly to life. And the three friends providing a rendition of Wake Me Up When September Comes is compelling. The performances of other characters cannot be overlooked.
Through Johnny, the self-styled Jesus of Surburbia, we are offered stories of a deeply troubled youth, desiring more and descending spectacularly. In this spiral, we meet St Jimmy (Luke Friend) who brings charisma to convince of the darker side of Johnny’s Jesus.
Through Johnny we are also introduced to one of the few female characters. Sam Lavery’s Whatsername is a powerful addition to the cast. In Letterbomb there is the opportunity to excel, but alongside other female roles, the ability to shine is limited.
There is the ability to be completely absorbed in Green Day’s music, whilst tight choreography, strong performances and live music is all there, there is one over-riding weakness. American Idiot is a storyline based around a strong soundtrack, but this story is too simple. The characters don’t have the depth needed for the stage. Whilst the introduction is effective in conveying the backdrop, it quickly feels as though the story is a distraction from the music.
In the performances there are touches of the brilliance of what happens when music and stage production combine. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is mesmerising in demonstrating the desolation and solitude which can absorb. And fortunately there are many of these moments as the story develops.
But the production misses the strength of women, beyond those who support and need men, there seems little to be seen. In Sam Lavery’s Whatsername and Siobhan O’Driscoll’s Heather there is an undercurrent of so much power and attitude which should be celebrated.
Whilst American Idiot resonates of a history we should never forget. It is a history which is more than evident that we need to learn from. Whilst Green Day’s lyrics remain pertinent and celebrated, in the production it feels like there is a need to fill in some gaps.
American Idiot is a joy of music, if not quite a musical joy. To walk away with Good Riddance pulsating through your being is appreciated. This is a production which should be seen. To understand a time in our lives, and should be absorbed and enjoyed for this.
American Idiot is at the New Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 2nd February 2019. Tickets are available via the website.
Disclosure: I was invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All opinions and words contained are my own.