July 14, 2016

Green Day’s American Idiot Makes a Smart Move Returning to London

Johnny (Newton Faulkner, right) goes to war with his alter-ego, St. Jimmy (Lucas Rush, left), photo courtesy of Darren Bell
             The red carpet was rolled out for the press performance of Green Day’s American Idiot last night. As of July 8th, the musical has returned to the Arts Theatre in London for a limited run until September 25th. It officially hit Broadway in 2010 and made its London debut in 2015, which was followed by a UK tour in 2016.

             If making Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name into a theatre sensation seems like the most un-punk rock thing to do for a band that is unequivocally punk rock, think again. American Idiot was actually constructed as a punk rock opera by its head honchos: lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool. Therefore, taking it to the stage where it could be enacted in all of its dramatic glory actually made complete and utter sense. Even though it’s just as much of an audience pleaser as West Ends old-timers, it has very much taken on a life of its own as the cool kid on the block.

Boys will be boys...Johnny with his friends Tunny (Alexis Gerred, top) and Will (Steve Rushton, right), photo courtesy of Darren Bell
             The songs are anthems devised for a post-9/11 America, which was encompassed in a bubble of conspiracy theories, confusion, and terror. During this dark political landscape, it was hard to know who to follow or believe in. Green Day introduced a new leader and potential savior with a character called Jesus of Suburbia. Newton Faulkner, the double platinum-selling artist, joins American Idiot as Johnny, this crusader of modern times. The singer is known for his folk rock music and easily identifiable by his raspy, gravely voice (and his ginger dreadlocks). Incidentally, he’s a dream to listen to, even when he’s singing about rebellion and broken dreams. He’s also pretty funny.  

             The musical follows Johnny and his friends Tunny (Alexis Gerred) and Will (Steve Rushton) as they all embark on different paths of discovery. While Johnny and Tunny escape from suburbia to the big city, Will has obligations that keep him at home; namely, his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Emma Housley). It isn’t long before Tunny abandons Johnny and joins the military, while Johnny becomes drunk in love with Whatsername (a moniker taken from the song title and played by Amelia Lily, who finished third on The X Factor in 2011) and intoxicated by other, more dangerous, substances.

Whatsername (Amelia Lily, left) shows Johnny the meaning of "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" with Extraordinary Girl's (Alice Stokoe, far left) support, photo courtesy of Darren Bell
             This is all spurred on by St. Jimmy (Lucas Rush), his Mohawk-sporting, cockily strutting, track-marked alter ego – “the patron saint of the denial, with an angel face and a taste for suicidal.” I can’t take my eyes off of Rush in the role, with his band jacket, smudged eyeliner, and swagger – a conductor of Johnny’s ill fate as he hands him the pill, the needle, the gun. Armstrong played St. Jimmy on Broadway for several performances. Now wouldn’t that have been a sight to behold? I’d say we had the next best thing with Rush though, with his high-energy performance and bad boy charisma.

St. Jimmy (Lucas Rush), that "son of a gun," photo courtesy of Darren Bell
             “American Idiot” is the perfect head-banging opening song after being subjected to television channels that flick between clips of former president George W. Bush and images of the World Trade Center bombing. This is a thinking musical, tinged with some tongue-in-cheek references, which is all down to Armstrong’s powerful lyrics. As cheerleaders parade around with a pom-pom in one hand and a bomb in the other while seducing Tunny, it implores us to not be so easily seduced by ideas perpetuated in the media.  The message comes through loud and clear – for Americans and Brits alike.

             Although it samples mainly from American Idiot’s track list, the musical also incorporates songs from Green Day’s 2009 album, 21st Century Breakdown, with songs such as “21 Guns,” “Know Your Enemy,” and “Before the Lobotomy.” “When It’s Time” is an unreleased ballad by Green Day that Johnny gently sings to Whatsername while she’s sleeping, strumming away on his acoustic guitar. His silver metal stud bracelet catches the light and the disparity hits me. We’re given all of the swearing, anarchy, and crude humor that you would expect from young boys who are anti-establishment, but there’s also an underlying tenderness there. I never thought I would well up during American Idiot, but there’s a first time for everything! During “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a song about the death of Armstrong’s father when he was 10, I couldn’t tell whether the tears in Faulkner’s eyes belonged to him or to his character. 
Johnny picks up his guitar for "When It's Time" while Whatsername sleeps soundly, photo courtesy of Darren Bell
             As with opera, there is very little dialogue to lead the story, other than Johnny’s running monologue to inform us of the passing days, weeks, or months. The songs really don’t need stringing together, because they speak for themselves. Song writing is at its very core story telling, with lyrics that form the narrative. If you’re a fan of the songs already, you’ll love seeing them performed in what is essentially an extended music video. The cast are exceptional singers, which makes the lack of talking all the better. The main cast members, whether they sing alone or together, are all powerhouses – packed with their own range and tone to get to grips with Green Day’s raucous, fast-paced songs. They don’t falter once.
             In a moment of patriotism, underneath a flurry of red, white, and blue confetti, no matter where any of us are from, we are united in the knowledge that we all went through “that phase” during our teenage years and came out on the other side relatively unscathed. Musicals have a tendency to do that, to connect us and make us feel something, regardless of what it might be. For the finale, however, that feeling was unanimous. The lyrics of “Good Riddance” rang out from the whole cast: “I hope you had the time of your life.” I did, I absolutely did, and judging by the standing ovations and cheers from the rest of the crowd, everyone else did too. In the case of American Idiot, I think it’s impossible not to.  
             Rock out at Green Day’s American Idiot until September 25th. Book your tickets here.
The gang's "Homecoming," photo courtesy of Darren Bell

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