Okay, hands up who was expecting Green Day to come up with a musical? Their 2004 album American Idiot may have been a bit of a concept piece originally but still, it’s a pretty big leap to transfer the whole thing to the stage. Capturing the energy that comes with this kind of music in the more gentrified setting of a theatre was always going to be a bit of a challenge too. The producers have responded by packing a helluva (as they say in the US) lot in to this show. From a set’s that’s liberally festooned with flatscreen tellies through to a cast that literally throw themselves into their respective roles, tumbling over staircases, flying all over the place on wires and dancing their asses off with the kind of unselfconscious energy that neatly recaptures the kind of energy you want from a punk gig.
At times it’s a bit of an ADD sufferer’s wet dream, with the tellies blaring messages out at you whilst the cast spin off in a dozen different directions but I guess that’s the point. We live in a world with a million and one distractions, most of which are (intentionally or otherwise) there to keep us neatly anaesthetised to the stuff that really matters (surely one of the band’s key messages here?).
Like many jukebox musicals the plot’s fairly simple. Three young men living in the fictional Jingletown all want to get the hell out of there. On the verge of leaving one guy gets his girlfriend pregnant and stays behind, one dude sets off in search of a rock n’roll lifestyle and the third ends up joining the army...arguably three different forms of idiocy to the one that they’re all rebelling against in the first place. This lays out three different stories to follow and there are some fairly graphic bits in the show that put it poles apart from your usual musical fare (the odd bit of shagging, plenty of shooting up and the odd amputation and novacaine induced hallucination...I’m betting you won’t get that in the new Spice Girls’ musical...sadly). None of its overtly gratuitous though and in the context of both the music and its themes it works well to capture the kind of nihilistic lifestyles being portrayed. Okay, amateur analysis over, is it great night out? Yep, you bet. From the first blast (surprisingly loud for a theatre) of the theme song American Idiot at the opening of the show through to a surprisingly emotional 17 guitar full cast version of Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) there’s not a dull second. These are some of Green Day’s best songs too and even casual fans will appreciate hearing stuff like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, 21 Guns and Wake Me Up When September Comes up there on stage. Regular gig goers might feel the urge to leap up and try to form a circle pit in the aisles during the more upbeat numbers and it might have been nice to get some of the cast off the stage and in amongst the audience once or twice (a little cheesy I know but a good way of recreating that punk gonzo spirit a little more) but American Idiot successfully brings the musical kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
With a youthful all American cast it feels authentic and Alex Nee impressed as the Billie Joe Armstrong channelling Johnny whilst his drug dealing nemesis St Jimmy managed to be devilishly addictive in the hands of Trent Saunders. This really is an ensemble piece though and the show’s at its best when they’re all up there, thrashing about like there’s no tomorrow (kudos to Steven Hoggett for some inspired moments of choreography). You’d be an idiot -American or otherwise - to miss it...
American Idiot’s at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 1st December before transferring to Hammersmith Apollo for a brief run (December 4th – December 15th).