Direct from Broadway, the smash-hit rock musical American Idiot has landed in Southampton on the first stop of the UK leg of its first international tour, and if the audience at the British premiere are anything to go by, it is destined to storm the UK.
Based on Green Day’s award winning multi-platinum concept album, with additional music borrowed from their other works, including "21st Century Breakdown”, American Idiot tells the story of three disaffected young men, Johnny, Will, and Tunny – lifelong friends grown up in George W. Bush’s post 9/11 small town America. The three each take a different path on their journey to find their place in the world.
Johnny (Alex Nee), self-proclaimed ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ escapes the boredom, despair and frustration of ‘Jingletown USA’, and seeks adventure in the big city. He finds sex, drugs, and nihilism, while falling prey to drug-dealer St Jimmy (Trent Saunders), and experiencing the fleeting joy of love in the shape of Whatsername (Alyssa Diplama).
Tunny (Thomas Hettrick), seduced by the endless propaganda of military heroism and patriotism played out on the TV, joins the army and is shipped off to the Iraq war.
Will (Casey O'Farrell) also wants to escape from the stifling world in which the three grew up, but is left behind when his girlfriend falls pregnant. Trapped and alone, unprepared for the responsibilities of fatherhood, he withdraws to his sofa in front of the tv, beer and remote in hand…
Brash, bold and brutal in its story-telling, American Idiot is thin on narrative, but rich in the anger and the intensity of youth, serving as an anthem to a lost generation trapped in a world of war and financial meltdown that was not of their making. Unpalatable perhaps for the average middle-class, middle-aged theatregoer, American Idiot is game-changing in much the same way as Hair in the late 1960s, which provided a vehicle for anti-Vietnam war protesters to channel their anger and get their voices heard in mainstream America. In years to come I suspect American Idiot will be viewed similarly as a seminal work of 21st century theatre.
The score includes such hits as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "21 Guns," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," "Holiday" and “American Idiot” featuring the music of Green Day and the lyrics of lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong.
The 19 strong cast, and 8 piece band (on stage throughout) are sensational, and bring a raw, barely contained energy to Steven Hoggett’s electrifying choreography, and a reassuringly theatrical depth to Tom Kitt’s orchestrations. Barn-storming performances from all the central players, completed by Jenna Rubaii (as ‘The Extraordinary Girl’) and Kennedy Caughell (Heather), and under the assured direction of Michael Mayer, bridge the divide and blur the edges between punk rock and Broadway Musical.
Challenging, aggressive and confrontational with a full-on rock concert feel, those unprepared or unfamiliar with the originating album might want to run for the exits. But hold hard, the emotional impact of this astonishing production rather sneaks up on you. By the end I find myself surprisingly moved, exhilarated and empowered, and the final, somewhat conciliatory curtain call where the entire cast take up guitar to give us “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” is a joy, and one of the best I can remember seeing in a long time.