This review was produced as part of a Monash University journalism trip to London and New York in 2010. It was also an entrant in the JEA Ossie Awards 2010.
– Photograph taken by Lillian Altman
The New York Times called it, “That rare creature, a true rock opera, with lushly melodic music, polished and precise direction. A spectacular set and a vision of wasted youth that holds us in its grip.” Green Day’s 2004 politically-fuelled studio album, American Idiot, was always destined to be a musical. On June 30, the cast of American Idiot performed one of a string of shows at the St. James Theater in New York’s Broadway district.
Produced by Tony Award winning director Michael Mayer, composer and orchestrator Tom Kitt, and choreographer Steven Hoggett, along with the members of Green Day, American Idiot tells the story of a group of teens struggling with their lives in post 9/11 America. The show took two years to perfect, originating as a tryout at Berkeley Repertory Theater (the city from which the band originates). It sold out and was extended (not once, but twice), reaching Broadway in April 2010.
The story centres on Johnny, played by John Gallagher Jnr., a man without a clear future. In the opening scene we see Johnny lying on a bed in the middle of the stage, he narrates to the audience that he woke up alone, having just jacked off and forgotten to take a shower… yet again.
Johnny narrates the date with a description of what is happening that day or what has happened in previous days. He also introduces his friends Will and Tunny. When they venture out to find some beer, the boys realise the desolation of their country and decide to explore their world. Will runs into his pregnant friend Heather; and is told he’s the father of the baby. He turns to drugs. Tunny joins the army.
A year later, we get to see how the characters’ lives have changed.
The backdrop for the energetic and talented performers was a high-rise apartment block riddled with television screens and fire escape stairs. The props: beds, and couches; the places teens spend many a day and night…
Tracks from their 2004 American Idiot album, 2009 21st Century Breakdown album and various other albums of Green Day were performed throughout the night; including a new song (‘When it’s time’), which was written by Green Day specifically for the musical. Only true Green Day fans will notice that some of the lyrics of the original songs have been changed to suit the storyline of the production. As well as the performers, there’s a full set rock band blasting out the tunes as the characters sing and dance along.
As the performance ended, and the curtain came down, the performers were greeted with a standing ovation.
But wait… there’s more.
As the curtain arose once more, the audience was met with the cast on stage, each one armed with an acoustic guitar for a group rendition of ‘Good Riddance (Time of your Life)’. The cast was once again given a standing ovation. As a special treat, some of the cast members went down to the front of the theatre after the show to greet their fans.
The performance was amazing; the most spectacular part of the night was during the track Holiday. Johnny was standing at the top of a scaffold whilst singing; his ‘friends’ pulled it down to ground level as he continued to sing and dance.
Although the songs were enjoyable to listen too, they just didn’t have the same punk rock energy as when sung by the Green Day members. Leaving that aside, at times you could hear Armstrong’s voice within Gallagher’s singing. The only downfall was that, at times, there was so much going on; it got a bit confusing as to where to look.
If musicals had a rating system, this one would definitely fit the MA15+ category. As well as a lighting show, there’s alcohol consumption, near nudity, sexual themes (+ sex scene), herbal smoking, drug use and frightening themes such as war. The show was definitely not appropriate for one group of girls sitting in the audience. They were six 14-year-old scout girls who insisted to one of the girls’ mother that this is what they wanted to do while in New York. The mother told me that she didn’t know prior to the show what it would entail.
American Idiot won two Tony Awards in 2010, one for best scenic design of a musical and the other for best lighting design of a play.
For any Australian Green Day fans out there, you should definitely see the show if it comes to Australia, possibly next year. There are also plans for the production to be adapted into a film featuring none other than Green Day’s own Billie Joe Armstrong!
The duration of the production is 95 minutes.
Preview of the musical: