Youth raging against the world

Aerial ballet: Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) with Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubaii) Pictures: Turner Rouse Jnr

American Idiot

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

BACK in the 1970s and early 1980s, in the days when the BBC was the envy of the world, Play for Today was essential viewing.

American Idiot might not be essential but it can be seen as a musical for today. Seeing a Marshall amp at the back of the stage means you just know it is going to be loud, it is also brash, the language is . . . industrial and, if a warning not to bring maiden aunts to see it was still needed, there is a song-long simulated sex scene and a scene of shooting up drugs.

It is also a story of the vacuous lives of youth in a world which seems hostile to them and does not seem to care, a story of anger and rage.

It is based on punk band Green Day's Grammy award winning rock opera of the same name from 2004, their seventh studio album, which topped the album charts in the USA and UK. The group, formed back in 1984 by the way, were influenced by the likes of The Who (Tommy)  as well as West Side Story and arena rock show Jesus Christ Superstar.

The stage version follows the lives of three disaffected friends who want to escape what they see as an empty, pointless life in Jingletown USA where they are bombarded by TV and – like teenagers everywhere – see parents as  . . . well parents.

But the three friends find their escape routes rapidly take different paths. Will (Casey O'Farrell) never makes it past the bus station returning home to pregnant girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughhell)

Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) is full of bravado heading off for a brave new world in the city – but in terms of the trio's escape attempt sells out - joining the military. He pays the price for serving his country when he loses his leg it in what appears to be one of the USA's wars Iraq or Afghanistan. He hallucinates as he recovers and we are treated to en extraordinary aerial ballet in Extraordinary Girl with Jenna Rubaii.

Love's young bloom: Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) and Johnny (Alex Nee) in their doomed relationship

Which leaves Johnny (Alex Nee) our guide who finds drugs, lust and love and loss with Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) as the glitter of city life loses its shine and he becomes obsessed with his alter ego, St Jimmy (Trent Saunders)who is the rebellious Johnny hitting the clubs and drugs.

Nee's Boulevard of Broken Dreams as he sees Whatsername in a window is a highlight as indeed are all the more melodic, acoustic numbers including the bittersweet Wake Me up When September Ends.

Eventually our disabled soldier and our love's labours lost lothario return home and meet up again with stay-at-home dad in We're Coming Home Again before the finale of Whatsername.

The award winning set by Christine Jones looks like a sort of post-nuclear holocaust Curry's with walls of TVs slung on scaffolding poles with a scaffolding tower and industrial steps to complete the stark scenario. The tower is toppled to become a Greyhound bus with a clever back projection giving a remarkably realistic impression of a journey.

The video design, including those banks of TV sets is down to Darrel Maloney and there were awards to for the clever lighting from Kevin Adams which takes some precision timing to work in what is a technically superb production.

Sound too, designed by Brian Ronan, although loud, was never distorted and was driven along by an excellent six piece band on stage.

The choreography by Steven Hoggett is slick and full of life which helps to drive the show along with a spirited cast who never stop moving in what is a high tempo, all action show.

It all ended with the entire cast of 17 all with acoustic guitars all playing and singing Green Day's iconic anthem Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)  from 1997 album Nimrod - and that takes some beating as an encore.

There are some drawbacks. Character development for example, is non-existent nor is there any depth to the narrative. The language and somewhat graphic simulated sex will not be to everyone's taste but no one can deny it is a vibrant, political and powerful work - rock opera with attitude.

It makes a statement about, or even on behalf of disaffected youth – and that is perhaps all it ever tried to do and trying to analyse it further is, like the life many youngsters see around them, pointless – a musical for today.

Roger Clarke 

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