Image: Green Day’s American Idiot via American Idiot Live.
Green Day’s American Idiot delivers everything you expect from a musical based on a Green Day album: eyeliner, skinny jeans, political messages, satire, sweat, curse words, a driving energy, and plenty of bird flipping. shake & stir theatre co and QPAC’s successful Australian Premiere of American Idiot in 2017 created enough interest to send a National Tour on the road in 2018 with an all Australian creative team, cast and crew.
The Comedy Theatre in Melbourne is the perfect sized venue for the show and provides the right amount of grunge and grandeur to surround the story of three friends from Jingletown USA struggling ‘to find the balance between life and death, rage and love.'
Despite the original source material – the concept album American Idiot – having a pre-existing story to work from, the show suffers from a common flaw of the jukebox musical, a weak storyline and underwritten characters. The weakness of this production lies not in the work of the cast, crew, and creative team, but in the script itself. American Idiot is incredibly enjoyable in the moment, it leaves you energised and excited – just don’t think about it or question it too much after you’ve left the theatre. As Director Craig Ilott says, ‘there are no easy answers, no typical clean-cut Musical Theatre journey and denouement’. The audience is taken on a 90-minute journey with these characters who frustratingly end up back where they started, but worse off. But then again, that’s often how life goes.
American Idiot is more ‘rock opera’ than traditional musical as it is sung through with minimal dialogue. Narration led by Johnny (Ben Bennett) in the form of a diary/letters helps establish time throughout the show. The show starts strong and frenzied with the title song ‘American Idiot’ establishing the punk rock vibe. The pace is relentless, although there are moments when the rock show façade is stripped back and real emotion comes through. Particularly moving is ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ which begins with the three friends Johnny, Tunny (Connor Crawford) and Will (Alex Jeans) isolated by place but ultimately connected by the song and their guitars.
Ben Bennett as Johnny, the self-proclaimed ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, is the right amount of eager and arrogant and has you yelling ‘just grow up already’ while you are secretly wanting him to succeed. The audience is most on his side when he’s in moody serenade mode as opposed to hyperactive drug addict mode. Stepping back into the role last minute on Opening Night with little preparation after playing Johnny in the 2017 production, Bennett easily reconnects with the world of American Idiot to portray the young anti-hero.
Connor Crawford as Tunny has a strong stage presence and displays a range of emotions across his journey from angry youth to wounded military veteran. Tunny’s military storyline, and a lot of the imagery associated with it – inspection in underwear, robotic uniform dressing, Uncle Sam cameo, sexy nurse hallucinations – leaves you thinking ‘when are we getting our Across The Universe stage adaptation?’.
Alex Jeans plays Will, who disappointingly spends most of his time home on the couch, but once again, let’s face it that’s life. You are left wanting more not only for the character but for Jeans as a performer. From the little you get of his voice, presence, comedic skills and guitar playing, you know unlike Will he’s going to get off that couch and do great things with his life.
Sadly, the female characters, thanks to the script, are underutilised. Extraordinary Girl (Kaylah Attard), Whatsername (Phoebe Panaretos) and Heather (Ashleigh Taylor) are talented performers with great voices but they don’t get to show the audience what they can do – except for Attard who makes flying and singing at the same time look like no big deal.
From Phil Jamieson, sharing the role of St Jimmy on tour with Adalita and Sarah McLeod, to the Ensemble, and the band led by Glenn Moorhouse there is not a weak link on stage. While everyone is working extremely hard to keep up the punk rock spirit of the show, ensemble member Erin Clare is a standout. Her sass, her energy, her voice, are all incredible.
Visually American Idiot delivers the punk rock show you came for. Josh McIntosh’s industrial Set Design, Matthew Marshall’s Lighting Design, Melaine Knight’s rebellious Costumes, and the overwhelming videos from Craig Wilkinson, all combine to create a high energy violent punk rock world from which the story unfolds. Although close-up videos of the characters are sometimes awkward and a distraction rather than an aide in creating the world. Choreography from Lucas Newland is strong, angry, passionate and precise. At times it is reminiscent of the Spring Awakening choreography, but on crack. The show is exhausting in the best way.
Just a warning to hardcore Green Day fans – seeing American Idiot may ruin your ability to listen to regular Green Day songs again without expecting harmonies and gorgeously layered background vocals.
3 ½ stars out of 5
shake & stir theatre co and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present Green Day’s American Idiot
Music by: Green Day
Lyrics by: Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Director: Craig Ilott
Choreographer: Lucas Newland
Music Director: Glenn Moorhouse
Featuring: Ben Bennett, Connor Crawford, Alex Jeans, Kaylah Attard, Phoebe Panaretos, Ashleigh Taylor, Erin Clare, Nicholas Kyriacou, Christopher Scalzo, Kyla Bartholomeusz, Vidya Makan, Phoenix Mendoza, Maxwell Simon, Kuki Tipoki, with special guest appearance by iOTA.
ST. JIMMY to be played by Phil Jamieson, Sarah McLeod, and Adalita – for a full performance schedule with details on the rotational role of St. Jimmy please refer to www.americanidiotlive.com.au
Until March 11 2018
Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
13 – 21 April 2018
Darwin Entertainment Centre
3 – 6 May 2018
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level