While the West End is overrun with musicals filled with glam rock anthems of the 60s, a new type of musical has made its way into town: one filled with enough angst ridden pop punk anthems to make the most hardcore theatre-lover bounce in their seat.
American Idiot, an adaptation of Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name, tells the story of three best friends desperate to get out of their dead-end town and make something of their lives. But before they have even left, Will (Casey O’Farrell) discovers that his girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughell) is pregnant, meaning that he has to stay behind while his friends continue on their journey. Johnny (Alex Nee) and Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) end up in a motel room, and meet their downfall, which takes the form of a girl called Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) and a semi-conscious druggy named St Jimmy (Trent Saunders).
A sparkly musical number (performed fantastically by Jared Young) immediately leads into the show’s scene-stealer of the night, the epic, stadium sing-along anthem “Are We The Waiting”. Thomas Hettrick, with the support of the ensemble, gives this song the true performance it deserves, honest, heart-filled and brutal. It seems rather silly to say (because well, if this album did not exist there would be no musical) but this musical does truly ride on the songs. The almost completely sung-through show only has a little dialogue in between songs, and if there was dialogue filling in the gaps it would completely lose its fast-paced rock and roll feel. The show has 21 songs, some at ten-minutes long, and not one number lets it down, even the slower songs hit you right in the gut. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was one of those moments, with the three friends singing on stage, clearly affected by everything going on in life. Then the ensemble walks on stage in shock, watching as millions of papers fall around them, a reference to the tragic events of 9/11.
It only seemed fitting that a rock musical should be staged in a venue that has hosted some of the biggest bands around. The show benefited from the large stage, with the cast given enough room to headband their hearts out. During “Extraordinary Girl”‘ we even see Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubaii) and Tunny flying across the stage in a fantasy sequence. Scenic Designer Christine Jones and Video/Projection Designer Darrel Maloney deserve a special shout out for the stage set up: the combination of the gritty design of the stage and the numerous televisions projecting images bring a much needed sense of despair and coming of age when the cast is doing some very non-punk things like dancing.
One minor problem of the show will only occur if you are a big fan of Green Day, which is the attempts of these obviously Broadway-trained actors trying to sound rock and roll. The female cast members are allowed to project their belting voices, but the boys try to be a bit more ragged, which sometimes does fall a little bit flat. When the slower songs come, like “21 Guns” and “Wake Me Up When Septembers End”, you can see that they have strong voices but it can feel like they are trying to imitate Green Day’s front man Billie Joe Armstrong.
This very small problem fades, however, when you see just how well put together this show is. Even though the show did have some first night jitters (at one point the projectors on stage showed a windows start up menu) it can only get better. Surely if a musical like Loserville can get a run in a West End venue, it certainly will not be long before American Idiot does.
Green Day’s American Idiot plays at Hammersmith Apollo until 16 December. For more information and tickets, see the Hammersmith Apollo website.