As war is urged as a necessity, again and again, the West End welcomes the judicious return of a previous hit: Green Day’s American Idiot. The musical follows the life of three disillusioned men suffocating in suburbia. Their aim? To experience something bigger, something better. Ricky Plews’ direction and choreography sharply depicts the unknown territory into which the three step, dangerous as war itself.
The album American Idiot, released in 2004, was a timely comeback for Green Day.
The musical narrative follows the Jesus of Suburbia tale, an adolescent anti-hero divided between rage and love. This was the album to revive Green Day after a period of declining significance, piquing interest from Broadway. The punk rock opera became a reality onstage in 2010 despite Green Day’s initial reluctance. The success of the production, however, turned around their original reservations and encompassed two Tony Awards, a Grammy Award (for the original cast recording) and a US tour.
Two years after the Broadway debut, American Idiot premiered in the UK, where it was popular amongst both critics and audiences, with a general critical consensus of between three and four stars.
In 2016, the production does not fail to impress, with only one cast change from that original UK production: Newton Faulkner is now playing Johnny.
It is almost impossible during performance to grasp the lyrics, due to the loudness and power of the music muffling out any understanding. This is a show much suited to larger venues in order to reach its acoustic potential.
The collaboration between Tim Deiling’s lighting and Sara Perks’ design effectively adds to the strong performances of the cast. Perks uses a simple but appropriate stage setting in depicting working class existence in non-gentrified areas. Seeing the set teamed with Deiling’s switching between warm and cold lighting adds to the strong underlying political message.
Inspired by Billie Joe Armstrong’s personal history, his lyrics allude to the working class being detached from the city.
American Idiot begins with the youth of suburbia dispersed around a 7-Eleven; fed up and ambitious to ensure they will leave, that they will achieve something better. At a bus stop, that does not permit standing, three men stand: prohibited but retaliating against authority; indicating that men to be perceived simply as mischievous boys.
Steve Rushton’s Will, although on the brink of leaving, has his hopes thrashed due to unexpected impending fatherhood. The military succeed in their enrolment campaign; their appealing travelling lifestyle is chosen as an escape route by Tunny, played by Alexis Gerred. And the main charater? Johnny? The insecure projection of his imperturbable attitude guides him to the big city.
Naturally, he falls in love with Amelia Lily’s ‘Whatersame’. Friendship and love soon turn to betrayal with arrival of St Jimmy (Lucas Rush). Is he a part of Johnny’s shadow, or his alter-ego? Newton Faulkner’s performance, delivering a rock and roll attitude, attire and hair style, accentuates Johnny’s iconoclasm. The fickle actions of his girlfriend accurately display the swiftness of city loving, moving from one to the other, shattering any illusion of Johnny’s existence.
Tunny’s emotions provide an insight into the aftermath of army life. Has destruction brought him happiness? Will’s routine of the couch and bong suggest his life attitude, but has fatherhood saved him from the unknown? As Johnny returns, will he overcome his addictions? Will all three reunite and provide hope for one another.
Apart from that last issue, most questions are answered in this, 100 minute fast paced performance.
Robert Wicks, Alex Marchisone, Tommaso Varvello, Steve Rushton and Nick Kent, collectively as a band, provide eclectic support to the screaming rock numbers. Amelia Lily from X-Factor is an excellent example of the kind of real talent reality TV shows can produce. Overall this is a strong ensemble cast with great dancing from Faulkner and exceptional vocals from Gerred.
American Idiot is not only for hard core Green Day fans. It is musical that guides the audience through the disillusionment of the next generation.
The effects of war today are rippling through each nation, and whether in America, Iraq or the UK (or anywhere else), George W. Bush’s threat that we are either with him or the terrorists lingers on and places this musical at the heart of every individual’s turmoil, wherever they live.