I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I took my seat at The Arts Theatre for a matinee performance of American Idiot. All I knew beforehand was that it was a musical based on the music of Green Day, and purposefully had read nothing else about it, as I like to avoid holding any preconceptions as far as possible.
On entering the small auditorium, news clips were already playing on a small screen on the stage, mainly in black and white, from the aftermath of 9/11. This was loud, to the point where normal conversation was disrupted, and created a tense atmosphere even before the show began.
Green Day’s American Idiot album was written at a particular moment in time, and this is what the musical serves to portray. Post-9/11, the country was changed forever, and the album attempts to sum up the ‘new’ state of America. Though I’m familiar with many Green Day songs, I hadn’t before paused to listen to this album straight through, and I know now I was really missing the message.
The musical moves through the tracks of the album, and treats the songs with utmost respect. There are none of the remixed/drastically altered versions of songs seen in other ‘jukebox musicals’, and there is a real feeling that the musical is an attempt to present the album as written, rather than trying to loosely attach a story to the words of musicians.
The actors making up the cast were excellently selected. It’s a show covering a whole range of styles and hard-hitting themes, and had it been performed badly I think it could have been very poor. To handle themes of war, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and the wider state of America, takes a skilled cast with the talent to know when to hold back, just as well as they know when to completely let go.
Johnny (Aaaron Sidwell) blew me away. His voice and guitar-playing were fantastic, but he had such an incredible hold over every element of his character, and it’s a character which goes on a tough journey. One of the most intense moments of the show was a scene where he is injecting himself in the bathroom. Minute after minute of silence was peppered only with the sounds of him dropping a syringe, or taking sharp breaths. Silence on stage is a powerful tool, and he handled this scene, and similar scenes, brilliantly.
Alexis Gerred played a fantastic Tunny, and his song from the hotel bed was one of the most stunning moments of the show. You could hear pain in every note, and he was certainly one of the clearest things I remembered on leaving the theatre. I also had a soft spot for Will (Steve Rushton), who won my award for favourite voice, and beautifully portrayed the ‘wasted life’ of a young man forced to stay behind due to personal circumstances, while his mates travelled off to try and find themselves.
The St Jimmy character (Lucas Rush) was a real standout, with a physical appearance setting him apart from the other men, and an easy confidence that made it clear why Johnny would look up to this ‘character’ as some kind of idol. The scene where this all unravels, and Johnny replays their scenes together but taking his ‘rightful’ place as the ‘St Jimmy’ role was one of the most intense couple of minutes I’ve ever seen in a musical.
Heather (Natasha Barnes) and Whatshername (Amelia Lily) both had stunning, distinctive voices, which beautifully punctuated the male-dominated track list. The cast for this show is small, but the power between every voice is undeniable, and the wall of sound created was of the highest standard.
The performance carries straight through, with no interval, and as a result the intensity never drops. As I’ve mentioned, the subject matters are heavy, and the music is strong, and the show has been woven together in a way that really presents a ‘moment’ capturing the American Idiot album. I’ve listened to it beginning to end multiple times post-show, reliving the moments the cast shared.
Overall, I went in with few expectations, and left very pleasantly surprised.
What I saw was a great cast, handling fantastic music with respect, and using acting of the finest quality to present stories you can’t help but be affected by. I urge you to get a ticket if possible before the run ends, because I was truly impressed.