By Jacqueline Grima
In 2004, US punk band, Green Day, released their seventh album, American Idiot, a powerful rock-opera in the same vein as The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia that tells the story of the Jesus of Suburbia, a lost and disillusioned adolescent attempting to make sense of the post-Iraq War world in which he lives. The album was a huge success and, five years later, was adapted for the stage by Green Day frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Tony Award-winning director, Michael Mayer. This week, the show came to the Palace Theatre, Manchester for a five day run that brought Green Day fans flocking from miles around.
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, this version of American Idiot tells the story of three friends, Johnny, Tunny and Will, who, frustrated with a post-9/11 America that seems to devalue the young, dream of escaping the suburbs in which they live. The three boys’ stories are told simultaneously on a heavily-graffitied, urban-industrial stage set, Johnny and Tunny making plans to head for the bright lights of the city, whilst Will, who was planning to follow them, chooses to stay behind when his girlfriend, Heather, tells him she is pregnant.
The boys’ subsequent journeys are told in song, tracks from the Idiot album, such as ‘Holiday’ and ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, filling the auditorium as the audience, many of them used to going wild at Green Day gigs, try to refrain themselves from jumping out of their seats and sedately nod their heads in time. As they follow the three friends, Will trying to come to terms with fatherhood, Tunny’s decision to enlist in the army leading to devastating consequences and Johnny descending into drug addiction and self-destruction, old and young fans alike seem enraptured.
Steve Rushton, Cellen Chugg Jones and Matt Thorpe are dazzling in the three lead roles, Jones’ raspy and extremely powerful vocals a particularly pleasant surprise for an audience who had been told before the performance that he was a temporary stand-in. Added to this are a fantastically powerful performance by Lucas Rush as dodgy dealer and product of Johnny’s drug-addled brain, St Jimmy, and the strong stage presence of the slightly underused and under-celebrated 2011 X-Factor finalist, Amelia Lily, as Johnny’s love interest Whatsername. Backing up the main cast are a strong team of dancers and backing singers as well as a small band of musicians who perform the music live on stage throughout.
To the delight of the more hard-core fans, the show also contains some of the band’s more obscure material, such as original B-side of the ‘American Idiot’ single ‘Too Much Too Soon’, ‘Favourite Son’ and tracks such as ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ’21 Guns’ from the their second rock opera album 21st Century Breakdown. As the show closes, the audience sing and clap along to firm fan-favourite ‘Good Riddance (Time of your Life)’.
American Idiot is by no means the usual family-friendly, light-hearted musical that might be found at the Palace Theatre and, with images of drug-use, war violence, attempted suicide and sexual scenes, it is, at times, a difficult performance to watch. However, with electrical performances by the cast and the edgy, easily-identifiable music of one of the biggest punk bands on the planet, it is easy to see why Green Day’s venture into the world of musical theatre is selling out across the country.
To find out where the show is heading in the next few months, see the American Idiot website.