Green Day's American Idiot - a musical rock opera
Green Day musical turns a one-time teen fan-boy back into a nostalgic idiot
I don’t care much about Green Day, I’ve never seen a musical and I hate Southampton (it’s complicated, blame an ex-girlfriend). So when offered the chance to attend the official UK press day for American Idiot – the Green Day musical – in Southampton, I was surprised by my own enthusiasm.
Perhaps it was just curiosity, as there was a time when Green Day meant the world to me. I remember seeing the video for ‘Basket Case’ at my friend’s house when I was 14 and being blown away. Up until then, I had endured the overcast misery of The Verve, Oasis, Travis and Ocean Colour Scene, so to have this colourful blast of bratty American punk rock come screaming at me out of nowhere in my early teens … well, I was hooked.
I bought up everything I could: Dookie, Nimrod, Insomniac…everything. Luckily, I came just in time to meet their next album, Warning, head on and I lapped it up with youthful enthusiasm. From ‘Minority’ to ‘Macy’s Day Parade’, Warning was one of few albums to barely leave my stereo growing up. That is, until I discovered jazz, metal, hip hop and hardcore. I started to crave something more than the cartoon-like mainstream pop records that bands like this were beginning to churn out. And by the time American Idiot came out in 2004, I’d all but wiped Green Day from my memory. But it was easy to see why.
With the exception of the title track, the album felt like a band with their claws clipped; an almost parody-like mixture of drawn out, saccharine schlock-rock and over-aged attempts to sound relevant, edgy and ‘punk’. But, several years on, with a more open mind and a penchant for nostalgia, I wanted to see if there was still something there; something buried in the band’s music that still resonated with me in some way. To be fair to them, coming from the toilet-venue confines of latter-day punk rock to penning hit Broadway musicals is a feat worth applauding, whatever your musical preference. And in the grand scheme of things, the idea of writing a punk rock opera is a pretty brave move; one that runs the danger of splitting fans of both mediums right down the middle. With that in mind, I don’t think anyone was more mystified by the results than I was.
Guided by the capable hands of Tony Award-winning Broadway director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Uncle Vanya), American Idiot is in fact a spectacular display of musical and physical expression, as well as an accessible commentary on the fractured state of the modern world and the limited choices for its disaffected youth. Through the ingenious use of projections, video screens and wire-work alongside a stationary, yet fully-manipulated, warehouse-like set, the audience is transported into the bedroom and onto the battlefield as it follows a group of youngsters who want everything that’s coming to them, without the baggage of hard graft or emotional consequence. With a full live band built into the set, the show raucously coasts through stories of wide-eyed inspiration, big dreams and their battle with common and complicated issues such as drug abuse, teen parenthood, alienation and heartbreak.
As expected, the over-the-top opening to the tune of the title track begins to tread a dangerous and cheesy line between flamboyant musical theatre and overacted attempts to appear ‘punk’, but as the separate lives of the three young leads begin to bend and crack under the weight of their choices – to stay at home and waste away; to go off and fight a dangerous, meaningless war or to rebelliously skip town and become seduced by the bright lights and destructive influences of a big city – the true weight and musical power of some of these songs, begins to hit home.
Drawing mainly from the American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown albums, with a couple of surprises, the show plays out more like a 90-minute live-action music video than an engaging, linear story, but each performance is so ambitious, enthusiastic and colourful, that it’s easy to be won over. Die-hard theatre lovers may balk, Green Day fans may cringe, but for an objective and nostalgic nut like me with a lot of love for a big show full of heart and power chords, this was anything but a wasted trip. (Also, for the record, Southampton was lovely.)
Green Day’s American Idiot will be stopping at The Playhouse, Edinburgh, Mon 22–Sat 27 Oct; SECC, Glasgow, Mon 29 Oct–Sat 3 Nov.