American Idiot at the Royal Alexandra – Theatre Review
Director: Michael Mayer Choreographer: Steven Hoggett Actors: Van Hughes, Jake Epstein, Scott J. Campbell Lyrics by: Billie Joe Armstrong Music by: Green Day
Those expecting a traditional music theatre experience will undoubtedly be surprised by American Idiot, the inevitable stage adaption of punk rock band Green Day’s rock opera album of the same name. Basing a musical on the music of a particular band is a common technique in theatre these days, and smash hits such as Mamma Mia (based in the music of ABBA) and We Will Rock You (based on the music of Queen) have received much attention and praise. Here, however, is a musical that places a single narrative album on the stage instead in one sung-through act that begins with a burst of youthful angst and energy and doesn’t let up for a moment.
Since Green Day’s original American Idiot album itself actually follows a narrative of its own, not much had to be invented in terms of plot for the adaptation, which is simple and straightforward. In post nine eleven America, three young friends go their separate ways in search of truth and fulfillment. One heads to the big city, while another ends up in the military, and the third stays at home and becomes a father. Although their various lives become very different, parallels and similarities remain present throughout, and all must face trials and dangers. This highly relatable plot offers something for everybody, and is held together by its songs as opposed to by character dialogue. One unfamiliar with the words of these songs may be at a loss to understand each and every one, but the plot should be easy enough to follow nonetheless. Most of the words that are spoken come in the form of monologues by one character as he writes letters home to his mother. Instead of words, a very heavy focus is placed on dance instead, and the modern show is full of edgy contemporary numbers that convey the plot through symbolism.
The actual music in American Idiot will be well known to many in its intended audience, as it consists of all of the songs from the original album, plus a surprise addition at the end. Some of the songs sound very similar to the way in which they are performed by Green Day, while others are given a new twist. These pieces were all sung with energy and enthusiasm by the talented cast, and all performers appeared in their element as they were given the opportunity to rock out and perceivably emote in each scene, even playing instruments on occasion. The band is also placed right on stage, and watching them perform is an enjoyable experience all on its own. I was also surprised by the complexity of the set, especially since this particular show is touring and only staying in each location for a brief period of time.
American Idiot the musical is as angst ridden as the album from which it came. A cast of young people pours out its collective fears and desires, and the energy they create is nearly tangible. Boasting a simple story, this musical does not require extensive dialogue, but is able to rely on the power of its songs and the symbolism of its dance numbers. A refreshing and non-traditional music theatre experience for fans of punk rock or those simply craving something a little different, American Idiot still provides heart, emotion, and some spectacular stage numbers.