Thoughts on Green Day’s American Idiot

What: Green Day’s American Idiot – the Musical
Where: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne

Performances run until 11 March, 2018
For more information, please visit americanidiotlive.com.au

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Opening Night of Green Day’s American Idiot at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne. I won’t pretend to be a huge fan of the US punk rock band. I, of course, know some of their hits but apart from that, not much more. It would have been beneficial knowing the lyrics before heading into the theatre. At times, I felt like the instruments were too loud, meaning it was often hard to follow the emotional story through drowned the out vocals.

I suppose that’s why I have such mixed feelings towards the Shake & Stir production. Although more like a Rock Opera, due to very minimal dialogue (or a sung-through story for the stage, as stated in the programme); on the one hand, I enjoyed it. It has all the elements needed to make it great: catchy songs, good choreography and an emotional plot. However, it took me a while to get into it and (perhaps this says more about my personal life than anything else) I left the theatre feeling utterly depressed.

It’s life told in a raw, real and high energy way. It’s essentially like watching the highest highs and lowest lows of your life before your eyes, only to get to the end and realise you haven’t been living the life you once dreamed it would be.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, American Idiot is the stage adaptation of Green Day’s seventh album of the same name, based on the book written by Green Day’s lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer.

The story revolves around three childhood friends: Johnny, Tunny and Will who plan on leaving their suburban lives for the big city and making something of themselves. But life as we know it, doesn’t always share that same idea.

Johnny finds love with Whatsername (played by Phoebe Panaretos) and hard drugs; Tunny (Connor Crawford) is wounded in the army and Alex Jeans, as Will, gets left behind after discovering his girlfriend Heather (Ashleigh Taylor) is pregnant.

I was impressed with the three male leads, especially Ben Bennett (playing protagonist Johnny) who stepped in after the controversial sacking of Linden Furnell ahead of its Melbourne opening. Although I’ve heard others stating he’s too clean-cut and baby-faced, I never once thought he wasn’t right for the role. I was especially moved during his performance of When It’s Time. I don’t want to admit I was on the verge of tears, but I was …

I was equally impressed with Phoebe’s performance and vocal range, who earned a Helpmann Award nomination for her performance. The talented ensemble cast also get their times to shine. I want to single out Erin Clare though. She has such a strong stage presence and I found her performance mesmerising.

Rounding out the cast is the enigmatic St Jimmy (rotationally played by Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon, Adalita from rock band Magic Dirt and Sarah McLeod from The Superjesus – check the website for more details). Opening night saw Phil take the stage. I got a sense that St Jimmy was meant to be this epic, scene-stealing, larger-than-life character (He/She is, after all, that devil-on-the-shoulder, a figment of Johnny’s imagination) but ultimately, his performance fell short. Perhaps too, because the character spends such a short amount of stage yet is so iconic to the show, I expected much more. I spoke to someone who has seen the show on Broadway with different actors, and she felt underwhelmed also.

I did enjoy the show, but I believe it’s probably geared towards a Green Day fan than a traditional musical fan like myself. The best way to describe it is a visual representation of listening to the CD (like a high-value music video from a talented cover band, let’s say). It ultimately adds another dimension to the musical experience, that is actually pretty cool and unique, and I enjoyed that part of it.

Green Day’s American Idiot is not going to appeal to everyone and nor should it. It’s loud, bold and doesn’t apologise. The show tackles a lot of heavy issues, has strong language and a graphic sex scene. After all, their music spoke to a generation of unrepresented, misunderstood youth of America.

It’s a polarizing show, but that’s how it’s intended to be. However, it’s the small set details that makes the show feel so rich, and worth a look.

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