Love them or loathe them, it seems jukebox musicals are here to stay. Personally, I’m not a huge fan – but the latest to arrive in the West End, American Idiot, has me a bit excited. Partly, this is because, finally, we have a show based on songs I remember from the first time around. I’m not sure if this makes me old or the show years ahead of its time… but either way, I remember Green Day releasing their 2004 album, and count a couple of the tracks on it among my favourite songs.
The other factor that makes American Idiot stand out from the crowd is that it’s not a story made up after the fact and forced to fit to the band’s back catalogue. Instead, it builds on the concept already written into the album. The story is still fiction, but it’s based on a very real event: the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001, and America’s response. Before the show even begins, we’re treated to a looping reel of news clips, each of which brings back haunting memories of a day that changed the world forever.
The show, which was written by Michael Mayer and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, focuses on three lifelong friends who wake up on September 12th 2001 to find the world changed, but their lives still going nowhere. Over the course of the show, each will take a different path to try and find meaning: Will stays at home with his pregnant girlfriend, while Tunny is seduced by propaganda and joins the US army, and Johnny, abandoned by his friends, seeks refuge in drugs and a doomed love affair.
American Idiot is fast, furious and full of energy, from the moment the company burst on to the stage to perform the title track, until the final chord. There isn’t even an interval for the cast – and audience – to get their breath back. As a result, the show does at times start to feel a little bit frantic, reflecting the turbulent mood of its characters. And it doesn’t seem to quite know where to end; I thought it was over twice before it actually was. Although having said that, the real ending, when it comes, is pretty perfect.
But despite these quibbles, American Idiot is a lot of fun, and boasts an incredible cast. Amelia Lily and her powerful voice soon put to rest any mutterings about her past as an X Factor competitor, but her billing as the big name on the cast is a bit misleading; Aaron Sidwell, Alexis Gerred and Steve Rushton are the true stars of the show as childhood friends Johnny, Tunny and Will. All three are not only utterly convincing in their roles, they’re also talented musicians and singers; I’d go to a gig of theirs any day.
The music is, as expected, brilliant, and fits perfectly to the story, even for those not overly familiar with Green Day’s music (although you may not always catch all the lyrics over the rock soundtrack). Sometimes it’s hard to stay in your seat, as hits including ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ and ’21 Guns’ fit between lesser-known tracks from the 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown, and a new love song written for the show, ‘When It’s Time’.
A word of warning: this is not a show for the faint-hearted or easily offended, with scenes of drug use, strobe lighting and explicit language – but then I doubt anyone who knows anything about Green Day would be expecting flowers and rainbows, anyway. If you’re tired of the traditional jukebox musical and fancy something a bit grimier, born out of real life and real anger, then American Idiot may be the answer. You might even have the time of your life. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Review by Liz Dyer
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 8.00pm
Matinees: Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 3.00pm
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Age Restrictions: No age restrictions but the performance does contain some adult themes and strong language.
Show Opened: 23rd July 2015
Booking Until: 27th September 2015
Wednesday 29th July 2015