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A CurtainUp London London Review
American Idiot

by Sebastian King

I held up my local convenience store to get a bus ticket. Actually I stole the money from my mom’s dresser. Actually she lent me the cash. Bitch.— Johnny
In September 2004, American punk band Green Day released the concept album American Idiot. The album’s loose narrative charts the journey of self-discovery of one disaffected young man as he seeks to find his place in George W. Bush’s America. Following the success of the album, lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong collaborated with director Michael Mayer to adapt it into a musical, which opened on Broadway in 2012 to general acclaim. Eschewing the traditional route of transferring to the West End, and instead playing at a venue more commonly associated with live music gigs, the show finally comes to London, playing a limited engagement at the Hammersmith Apollo.

The musical focuses on three friends: Johnny (Alex Nee), Will (Casey O’ Farrell) and Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) who each struggle to escape their suburban lives in Middle America, before falling respectively into drug addiction, accidental fatherhood and military service. Although their roles are substantially smaller, we are also introduced to the various women in their lives: Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma), with whom Johnny engages in a fast and furious relationship, Heather (Kennedy Caughell), Will’s pregnant girlfriend, and Tunny’s fantasy figure and saviour, The Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubaii). As the show progresses, the audience is presented with a series of songs exploring the characters’ relationships with themselves, each other and America, and besides that, not a great deal happens narrative-wise.

This in itself is not such a bad thing. By following the ‘concept musical’ route, American Idiot avoids the usual trap that ‘jukebox musicals’ often fall into of shoehorning songs into inappropriate storylines, and instead aligns itself with that first great rock musical Hair. In fact, there are many comparisons to be found between these two shows. Like Hair, American Idiot is driven by the commitment and contagious energy of its ensemble – a rebellious tribe who present themselves as the voice of a generation, fighting against an oppressive political regime. The influence of Rent is also apparent in the gritty industrial look of the show, although Christine Jones’s set also features a multitude of blaring TV sets built into the back wall, and Darrel Maloney’s projection design serves as a constant visual running commentary on the action.

The three leads all sing brilliantly, with the perfect balance of musical theatre polish and a raw rocky edge. It’s surely no coincidence that they all have very similar vocal tones to Armstrong himself, so fans of Green Day will not be disappointed with the treatment of the songs they know and love. The onstage band make us feel like we’re at a rock concert, although the sound levels at times do creep slightly above what is comfortable. But credit must go to Tom Kitt whose arrangements of the songs add a whole new layer of beautiful harmonies, executed brilliantly in the full company numbers. The ballads ’21 Guns’ and the finale ‘Whatsername’ are particularly stirring.

However, what really makes this production is the choreography. Steven Hoggett, one half of Frantic Assembly, has created an expressive physical language that proves the perfect match to Green Day’s punchy protest songs. The fearless cast writhe and pulse, throwing themselves and each other around the stage, but also find moments of stillness where necessary. It remains to be seen whether or not American Idiot will seek a more permanent home this side of the Atlantic. But if it does, you’d be an idiot to miss it!

Link to our review of American Idiot on Broadway and song list go here.

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American Idiot
Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring: Alex Nee, Thomas Hettrick, Casey O’ Farrell, Alyssa DiPalma, Jenna Rubaii, Kennedy Caughell, Trent Saunders
With: Aurie Ceylon, Carson Higgins, Antwaun Holley, Daniel C. Jackson, Brandon Kalm, John Krause, Alison Morooney, Turner Rouse Jr., Jamal Shuriah, Dustin Harris Smith, Ashley Tobias, Chelsea Turbin, Jared Young
Scenic Design: Christine Jones
Costume Design: Andrea Lauer
Lighting: Kevin Adams
Musical Arrangements & Orchestrations: Tom Kitt
Musical Supervisor: Jared Stein
Choreography: Steven Hoggett
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Video/Projection Design: Darrell Maloney
Running time: Two hours including an interval
Box Office:0844 249 1000
Booking to 16th December 2012
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 4th December 2012 performance at Hammersmith Apollo,45 Queen Caroline Street, London. W6 9QH (Tube: Hammersmith)

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