I love musicals, I’d like to make that clear and get it out in the open nice and early. In fact, some of my favourite films of all time are musicals (and yes, I count Nightmare Before Christmas as a musical). The medium may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is far more than people give it credit for although. Glee is going a long way to tarnishing the musical name (Although, I also like Glee as well… I know…). I also happen to like Green Day for the most part, so it’s convenient then that they have produced a musical for the theatre, based on their trillion selling multi platinum album “American Idiot”, an album which itself was originally conceived as a rock opera of sorts.
Making its way to these shores for a small tour, the “American Idiot: The Musical” stage show had its opening night at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, with my best friend and TINAS colleague Greg Latham, who also is a rather large Green Day fan. We decided to make the trek and check out the show. Interestingly this was my first theatre experience as well.
Firstly, “American Idiot” is a very colourful show, its a sensory overload in places. The show’s main set has a number of TV’s mounted on it which play various things, along with lyrics and flashing images throughout the show, some help with the story, others really serve no purpose.
The main plot of the story stems from the main narrative on the album, but also expands and extends it to include more characters. The story centres around 3 main protagonists Jonny, Will and Tunny, childhood friends from some shit heel small town in America, all with different agendas, whose lives all take very different turns.
Jonny stays where he is, happy with his life of booze and day time TV, that is until he gets his girlfriend Heather pregnant and is forced to take a longer look at his life. Will leaves the city and looks to become a rock star and start a revolution, however he falls in love, becomes a junkie and in his drug fuelled paranoia develops a Jimminy Cricket on crack imaginary friend called ‘St Jimmy’ who leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole. Tunny starts off by Will‘s side by then tires of the city and decides to enlist in the army, before being shipped off overseas, and experiencing the horrors of war first hand.
“American Idiot” tries to tie together three narratives as well as tackling a lot of hard hitting issues, whilst also attempting to be a somewhat satirical social commentary on the over-saturation of consumerism. There are also seems to be some underlying subtext relating to the influence of the media over the ADHD generation.
It’s in the plotting where the show falls apart, in many aspects, as stated above the show tries to tackle a hell of a lot in its running time, but it never feels cohesive and there are moments where the plot is confusing. There is simply too much happening at once and you will find yourself struggling to take it all in. Also, for a show dealing with such issues, there are very few moments to pause to reflect on what’s happened or to take in the more emotional aspects of the story. Things just kind of happen and are then we are very quickly on to the next song.
I know it’s a musical and the songs are a large part of that, but a bit more narrative and emotional investment in the characters would have been nice, and would have gone a long way to helping flesh out some of the plot holes.
The songs, however, serve the limited story well and the song selection is one of the better aspects of the show. All the big moments from the album are present and correct, as well as two or three b-sides from the album sessions. We also get a few songs from “21st Century Breakdown” which help to flesh out and accentuate the story.
The only gripe with the song selection is that the story really becomes a slave to the songs, and there are moments where it feels like some of the songs were shoe horned in just for the sake of including them.
Aside from the songs and the story, the cast that has been assembled for this current run is made up of young vibrant performers who really help to bring the show to life. Each one of the performers in this show looks like they are having the absolute time of their lives, and that energy is infectious. It’s interesting to hear them bring some of the more well known songs to life and breathe something new into them.
As a stage show, the songs and choreography all translate really well. It is an energetic, hyperactive show full of colours and life, it’s just on a scripting, and in terms of the more dramatic stuff, there are times when the pacing is way off.
Many people filed the idea of a Green Day musical under the What-The-Fuck-banner, but for the most part, “American Idiot” is fun. You’ll find yourself singing and nodding along, and having a blast hearing a new spin on familiar songs, just don’t expect to have the time of your life.