Producing a concept album in 2004 was a brave move for US pseudo-punks Green Day. It isn’t hyperbole to describe that album, American Idiot, as culturally significant in US rock history, winning a Grammy Award in 2005 and frequently appearing on ‘greatest rock album’ lists ever since.
Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer (who reworked Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening with Tony Award-winning success) have together created a two-time Tony Award-winning rock opera for the post 9/11 generation.
Childhood friends Johnny, Tunny and Will, are searching for purpose in small town suburbia in an era of apathy, in a country led by George W Bush at his most bombastic. Wanna-be Rock star Johnny takes his guitar (and his soon-to-be heroin-addled alter ego St Jimmy) and heads for the big city, Tunny turns impulsively to the army and Will, trapped by impending and unplanned fatherhood, sits on the sofa drinking himself into oblivion. Chances are taken, mistakes are made, and everybody goes home licking their wounds in the end. There’s little more to it than that, but for non-Green Day fans and non-American Idiot fans, the story such as it is, might just take a bit of unravelling.
The characters are drawn with broad brushstrokes, existing firmly on the surface, they lack neither depth nor subtlety and the portrayal of women in woeful, worthy of little more than cursory characterisation (the female lead played by Amelia Lily deserves only the moniker Whatsername), that said, this relentless, angst-ridden rockfest is infectiously entertaining from beginning to end.
While it lacks the visual impact of the large scale 2012 touring production which came direct from the US with an all-American cast, director Racky Plews makes up for the simplistic staging by filling the stage with raw energy, not to mention a whole raft of cracking tunes including the anthem for the disaffected Boulevard of Broken Dreams, When September Ends, and of course, the title track American Idiot. Chords crash, the performers flail and writhe in paroxysms of rage, but you just can’t help being carried along with it all.
Folksy singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, (a man whose first ever group was a Green Day tribute band with fellow cast member Lucas Rush) is Johnny and is at his best, guitar in hand, in the slower numbers when his beautifully melodic voice can shine. The rest of the central male cast are competent and high on energy and angst but are underpowered vocally and struggle to overcome the thrashing chords of the fine-sounding on-stage live band. Who does shine in the vocal department is X Factor alumni Amelia Lily, following in her brother Lewis Bradley’s musical theatre footsteps she has crystal clear diction and a strong presence.
American Idiot is a great big, bombastic ear-blaster, and while it might not entirely succeed as a piece of musical theatre, it is a great opportunity to hear an album’s worth of iconic tunes played with energy and enthusiasm.
Runs until Saturday 4 June 2016 | Image: Darren Bell
This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub