Review by Dillon Eastoe
The New Theatre welcomed a variety of people into its doors for the opening of American Idiot this week. Teenage fans here for their favourite Green Day songs, their curious parents chaperoning them, and a few who seem like regular theatre goers (you wonder if they’re aware what they’re in for).
As the cast make final preparations backstage, a TV screen drops down blaring images of 9/11, sycophantic news presenters and George Bush blabbering through press conferences setting the scene for what’s to come. Taking to the stage to the incendiary title track the cast trade lines over the tumbling drum solos and throw themselves around the stage in suitably aggressive choreography. While they are no Green Day, the live punk band providing the music are powerful, abrasive and sometimes threaten to bust the theatre’s PA. For the most part the cast are in fine voice, with the female members playing counterpoint to the nasally tones of the male characters.
Telling the story of three friends sick of their suburban lifestyle, writer Michael Mayer has done a fine job in fleshing out multiple characters from Billie Joe Armstrong’s often biographical lyrics. After a spine-tingling “Jesus of Suburbia”, the three amigos go their separate ways; Johnny heading to the city intent on debauchery, Tunny leaving Johnny to join the U.S. military, and Will forced to stay at home after knocking up his girlfriend.
The action on stage often veered between all three storylines and the contrast between heroin-fuelled sex and the horror of a Middle Eastern warzone (providing “Give Me Novocaine”) upheld a gripping juxtaposition. Special mention also has to go to St Jimmy (Lucas Rush), Johnny’s wild alter ego. Arriving with a bang after Johnny first shoots up, he’s provocative, sexy and is star of the show whenever on stage.
From the set upwards, the performance is gritty with graffitied boards providing the background to characters variously shagging, shooting up and pretending to jerk off at one another. This prompts shock from some of the audience but sniggers and smiles from most. Being left at home Will spends most of the show ripping on his bong and jamming along to songs on a cute replica of Billie Joe’s guitar ‘Blue’.
The relatable nature of the slackers and junkies serve to drive home the central point of this album. The point being young adults are disenfranchised with a government that misinforms them and manipulates them to the point of laying their lives down in pointless foreign wars.
Rarely has an album captured a time and a place as well as “American Idiot” did, and even in its 5th run the musical continues to bring fresh life into a powerful and poignant 21st century classic.