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American Idiot

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

THERE is no doubt that the band Green Day are one of the most accomplished and successful pop rock outfits of all time, with over 75 million albums sold and You Tube views of their videos still clocking up millions of views.

The trio of front man and lyrist Billie Joe Armstrong, Bass player Mike Dirnt and Drummer Tré Cool certainly at their height , captured the mood of the youth in America.

Armstrong’s lyrics were always challenging and thoughtful and though the songs were well crafted and produced for the commercial market there seemed to be an underlying angst and intelligence in their music that was in contrast to their international pop success.

The album American Idiot, released in 2004, was written as a rock opera with its narrative core exploring the growing frustration people had with the government and the USA’s involvement in many overseas conflicts and went on to sell 15 million copies worldwide. It was only when theatre director Michael Mayer approached the band in 2008 with a proposal to make the concept album into an actual stage production, did the band consider it to be a real possibility.

In 2009 the musical was first staged in California transferring to Broadway in 2010 and with the shock wave of the tragedies of the 9/11 attacks still being felt, it opened to a mixed reception.

Whilst the album was made with sincerity, the transfer of the themes into a polished musical sometimes feels awkward in that it reflects the real life events of world terrorism yet places them alongside some typical choreographed dance routines and clever staging, that is pure entertainment. The overall message remains, but at times the original sentiment of Armstrong’s incisive message is lost.

 

American Idiot follows the course of three friends who travel down very separate paths. One moves into drugs and despair, the other into the military and the third into the responsibility of fatherhood. Jonny played by Newton Faulkner takes the drugs path. Faulkner’s character certainly captured the lost spirit of youth and his clear voice and solo acoustic guitar playing were the most poignant and some of the best moments such as in the song Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Amelia Lily plays Whatsername, Jonnys first true love, failing though to keep him from his descent into drug abuse. Lily, an X Factor runner up, clearly has a powerful singing voice which often seemed underused but while her performance was solid the chemistry between herself and Faulkner as lovers seemed lacking, even during their partial disrobing of a bedroom scene.

Tunny played by Alexis Gerred is the friend that takes the military path and Will played by Steve Ruston is the eventual father and both added a great deal of impact to the gritty songs of Green Day.

The first staging of the musical originally featured an onstage live band and this is now reduced to a couple of token guitarists. As this musical is all about the music the band presence was missed and the sound quality of the first half was not up to standard. Very few, other than hardened Green Day fans, would have been able to recognise many of the words that were being sung.

This always seems to be an issue with touring companies relying solely on a house PA and with Green Days songs having such high quality production values and impact, it was especially evident here.

The second half though started with some improvement in the sound with Lucas Rush in the devilish role of St Jimmy . It continued but still never came close to creating the driving energy or sound Green Day are known for. Also notable in support roles were Alice Stokoe as Heather and Karina Hind as Extra Ordinary Girl.

American Idiot is perhaps more suited to Green Day fans as much of the supporting narrative of the lyrics were often being blurred in the energy and muscle of a rock musical ensemble, meaning a lot of the connective tissue is lost.

With little added in the way of supporting dialogue, the music is king here and better sound quality on the night would have gone a long way to adding to what is already an intelligent and powerful musical. To 14-05-16

Jeff Grant

11-05-16 

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