Thursday, October 11, 2012

American Idiot Review

American Idiot
Tour - The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

2013 seems to be the year when several Broadway musicals will finally transfer to the West End. I for one have just received my ticket for The Book of Mormon and I am really looking forward to seeing this Tony Award winning musical. Although I am not familiar with Green Day, I went to see the premiere of the UK tour of American Idiot, in order to get a flavour of Broadway's latest offerings from the last few years. This musical was also directed by Michael Mayer, who also did Spring Awakening, a musical which I love.

The story follows three disaffected suburban youths, Johnny (Alex Nee), Tunny (Thomas Hettrick), and Will (Casey O'Farrell). They decide to find freedom in the city together but their paths get separated. Will is forced to stay at home with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Kennedy Caughell), Tunny decides to join the army, whilst Johnny lives an urban life. He has a relationship with a nameless girl, Whatsername (Alyssa Dipalma), takes drugs, and starts to imagine a rebellious version of himself, called St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders). Eventually the characters begin to encounter reality and long for the things they left behind.

I had heard that the musical's story was simple with only Green Day songs connecting it together. Indeed the story was nothing special, but I thought it was good. What helped was that the cast used the stage, objects, and body movement to convey the passing of time, a sense of location and a sense of the story. In particular, each of the three main characters were given different areas of stage to differentiate themselves, a metal frame was used to represent a couch, and later the ensemble members marched on in uniformed vests as the song Favorite Son turned into an Army advert. Sometimes the story became disconcerting but for the most part it was enjoyable.

Because the story line is simple, one can home in on the main characters from the beginning. The musical is based around Green Day's rock opera of the same title, which was a statement on post 9/11 issues, and some of this can be seen in this production. At the start, the curtain rose slowly  on a group of suburban youths watching dozens of screens on the back walls, which were showing news reports and mostly American orientated TV programmes. Suddenly they broke into the title song, American Idiot, as they jumped and stomped in their frustration against this saturation.

Yet, despite the occasional reference to American culture and society, such as the aforementioned Army advert, the focus of the musical was really on the main characters as they faced reality. At first it seemed tongue-in-cheek. Examples included a wounded Tunny in hospital, hallucinating that his nurse was an angel as they both perform an aerial dance during Extraordinary Girl. However by the second act the music became subdued and thoughtful, and when the main characters sang a touching Wake me up when September ends they seemed more rounded. By the end the musical had become heartwarming.

The company pulled all the stops when performing the songs. Strobe lights flashed every few seconds, dozens of provocative images flashed on the screens, whilst the orchestra, consisting of guitars, a drum kit, and the occasional instrument, played the music. Even as someone who is not familiar with Green Day it is easy to get sucked into the music (though thankfully whilst being seated a good distance away from the speakers). The lyrics were at times inaudible whilst the musicians hammered away, but the songs were on the whole energetic and thunderous. The company produced a variety of tricks and acrobatics, though most get a short moment on stage. Some I have mentioned, including the aerial dance, but it wouldn't be surprising if you miss some because a lot happens on the stage at times.

Although the story is not the best I have ever seen, it was conveyed well and by the end the characters' resolutions were gratifying. The cast pulled of some fantastic tricks and the songs were very engaging. Even if you are not familiar with Green Day, this musical is recommended at a low Top Price

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