All show and little substance; Green Day’s American Idiot boasts a chaotic, punky, angst-fuelled sound and aesthetic that unfortunately lacks the support of even the thinnest of plots. While the cast undoubtedly put on a spectacular musical performance in this stage adaptation of Green Day’s famous rock opera album, the lack of character development and forced storyline left the show feeling like a live high concept music video tribute, rather than a show in its own right.
Ambushing the senses straight away with a frantic and energetic opening rendition of ‘American Idiot’, the audience are introduced to the show’s three main characters. Johnny (Newton Faulkner), Tunny (Cellen Chugg Jones) and Will (Steve Rushton) are three disenfranchised youths looking to escape their small town and find the meaning to their lives in a post 9/11 America.
“However, unlike other musicals of its genre such as Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You, this is the only vague suggestion of plot given”
Leading from one song straight into the next with minimal dialogue between, as an audience we are just about able to keep up with the highly confusing progression of these three rather stereotypical characters. As Johnny heads to the big city and spirals down a drug addled path to oblivion, Tunny joins the army and is wounded in the Afghanistan war, while Will falls into sofa-stricken despair at the prospect of impending fatherhood. However, unlike other musicals of its genre such as Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You, this is the only vague suggestion of plot given, leaving the audience to flounder in the furious onslaught of musical numbers and often struggling to keep up.
Quite possibly the most interesting aspect of the show is Johnny’s battle with his badass Mohawk touting alter ego St. Jimmy (Lucas Rush). A love rival to Johnny’s dream girl Whatsername and his influence down the junkie path, Rush is a suitably dark sinister foil to Faulkner’s comical Johnny, who gradually shows a more emotional side in his relationship with Whatsername (Amelia Lily). As a show that is clearly heavily led by its music, the performances of Green Day’s biggest hits were performed extremely well with energy and an obvious passion, with Amelia Lily and Newton Faulkner being standouts in this aspect.
“These two songs provide a welcome break from the breakneck speed with which each song in the production is delivered”
With live musicians onstage and acoustic instrumental performances from the cast themselves, many Green Day hits were done true justice, especially the slower numbers of ’21 Guns’ and ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’. Allowing for a more soulful performance, these two songs provide a welcome break from the breakneck speed with which each song in the production is delivered, and allows for the cast’s acting potential to shine through in a moment where each character has hit rock bottom.
The set and costuming is another aspect that saves this production. Reflecting a gritty grey and graphited concrete and corrugated iron world of post 9/11 uncertainty, the set is a towering mass of grey, with many different levels that allow for the cast to clamber and stomp over the structure at will. The costuming is a classic nineties Pop Punk delight; an amalgamation of many big, colourful and ratty hairdos and endless numbers of belt buckles, bringing a sense of artistic fun and self-expression to characters that had little else to identify them.
“The album’s pop-punk vibe and politicised themes of the music and lyrics, the ‘plot’ itself has majorly suffered as a result”
While American Idiot is undoubtedly a landmark album in musical history, the themes that it expresses unfortunately just do not translate smoothly onto the stage. It is clear that in an attempt to stay true to the album’s pop-punk vibe and politicised themes of the music and lyrics, the ‘plot’ itself has majorly suffered as a result, and appears forced and riddled with holes and general confusion throughout.
The ending is inconclusive, dissatisfying and there were, quite frankly, too many of them, with each song nearing the conclusion sounding like a potential finale. While the die-hard Green Day fans in the audience may think differently, to the uninitiated, American Idiot is ultimately a disappointment. As a musical tribute concert it works, but overall, it sadly lacks the story and substance that is necessary for a stage musical.
Verdict: Wake Me Up When The Show Ends.
Image courtesy of TRCH, Nottingham.
‘American Idiot’ is running at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 18th June. For more information and to book tickets, see here.