Following the story of Green Day’s critically acclaimed, eponymous punk rock opera concept album, American Idiot makes for a mixed theatre experience. Those not familiar with the whole album and its story will still recognise many of the songs as it brought the band back into the limelight in the mid-2000s with single after single hitting the airwaves.
We set off on the story of three disillusioned and frustrated youths post 9/11 – Johnny, Tunny and Will – with the album’s titular track. But where the song was a much needed energy boost for Green Day, in the musical it’s a trip at the first hurdle. The show quickly and successfully recovers but the punk energy of the album doesn’t translate in this slick production in fancy dress.
The problems with this stage production seem fundamental and not the fault of the talented backing band or cast, who struggle to recreate the raw nature of an energetic rock album when playing at half volume to a quietly seated theatre audience. American Idiot lacks the passion and intensity of a real band and gig, and listening to someone rustling popcorn three rows over killed whatever glimmer of it there was.
Things pick up with Jesus of Suburbia, with the lighter moments in the music much more suited to the actors’ solos and choral arrangements. Angsty moments allow their acting to shine, bringing a layer of interest absent from the originals and therefore becoming more than a sub-par cover.
As the story continues our three youths end up on their own paths. Will (Steve Rushton) stays at home with his pregnant girlfriend, main protagonist Johnny (Matt Thorpe, soon to be replaced by Newton Faulkner) becomes a stereotypical punk junkie nihilist and Tunny (Cellen Chugg Jones) soon joins the military and absolutely steals the show from Boulevard of Broken Dreams onward.
The second act is much stronger and more emotional. 2011 X-Factor finalist Amelia Lily proves why she’s the headline name on the marketing materials and Lucas Rush comes into his own as Johnny’s manic alter ego St Jimmy. The emotional Wake Me Up When September Ends is the show’s climax, employing shared acoustic solos and choral vocals just when all the characters’ paths have reached rock bottom.
As an uncommitted Green Day fan (I prefer their pre-Warning albums) I was able to enjoy American Idiot but loyalists will find it a strange experience, especially if they’ve seen them live, and will need to remind themselves to enjoy it as theatre not concert. It’s certainly worth catching while on tour, if just for the crowd-pleasing rendition of the only non-American Idiot album track, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) sung by the entire cast – and audience.