Green Day’s seventh studio album, ‘American Idiot’ is known for being a successful punk rock opera concept album. It has broken many records, has won many awards, but has this album stood the test of time? Does it translate well on stage? The answer, I’m afraid, is a tricky one.
Bringing American Idiot back to Melbourne, Theatrical’s production is produced by Andrew Gyopar, directed by Scott Bradley, and choreographed by Grace Collins. If you missed the Melbourne professional premiere in 2018, Theatrical has provided you the perfect opportunity to catch this rare rock musical.
The American Idiot musical follows three frustrated men at a crucial time of their lives living in America during the Iraqi War when Bill Clinton, and later George W. Bush were presidents of the United States. Johnny, Tunny, and Will played respectively by Mat Dywer, John Mondelo, and Ronald MacKinnon each have a common path goal. These best friends want to get away from their small town and escape the expectations of society. To rebel and essentially, be free.
Will doesn’t even make it out of town. His girlfriend Heather (Harmony Thomas-Brown) revealing to him before he has the chance to hit the road that she is pregnant. Although Johnny and Tunny do manage to get away, they later separate because Tunny wants to and does enlist as a soldier to fight for his country. Due to Johnny’s stance on being against the propaganda, the government, and the war, he feels betrayed by his friend. Johnny ends up meeting a girl that he is infatuated by, recalling her face but not her name, ‘Whatshername’ (Romy Mcilroy) and their dynamic relationship consists of sleep, sex, and shooting up drugs.
So, I guess you can understand why I didn’t identify with any of these characters. None of them were really relatable, likeable, and all of them were raging teenagers thinking their problems are the worst in the world. They’re not. And while I did grow up loving punk rock bands and lived on live music, black band shirts, and Converse shoes, Green Day’s music never struck me as powerful or noteworthy. I mean, they do have catchy and popular songs but I wouldn’t exactly consider their music lyrically smart, eloquent, nor coherent.
I found myself squirming uncomfortably at the lyrics that state, “Well maybe I’m the faggot, America” in what is both the title song of their album and this musical. I suppose 18 years ago it was okay for some to say words like ‘fag’ and ‘faggot’, but they never sat right with me. And now, to have these words in a song as part of a show on the stage, makes this whole musical feel extremely dated. Given the topics of the Iraqi War and the American presidents at the time, American Idiot is very much a period piece and a snapshot of the world not getting things right. How can Green Day act so righteous and complain against the war and their government, but think it perfectly is okay to slander queers?
The characters are two-dimensional, and with its book written by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, the writing is very weak in comparison to its loud and in-your-face music. The combining of the music with its narrative never feels cohesive. By the end when the characters are hugging and reunited, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly was resolved?
Theatrical’s production of American Idiot is a solid one. I found myself enjoying this production a lot better than the Melbourne professional premiere I witnessed 5 years ago. There are moments of charm with numbers like ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ and ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ which I found wonderfully performed by the cast, and even more impressively, the choreography that lined up specifically with these songs was great to watch.
In such a confined area, the show never feels cluttered and smartly makes use of the space they have. Its metal cage-like set containing their rock band, complete with strobing lights, makes you feel like you’re at an underground rock concert. The graffiti art in the background showcasing the Statue of Liberty, assists to transport you to the big city where most our characters have escaped to.
Stand out performances consist of John Mondelo as Tunny, the stronger of the three leads. You really feel for his character when he is injured and struggling to comprehend his circumstances. His chemistry with ‘Extraordinary Girl’ Tashiya Prins is also very convincing, and both Prins and Mondelo harmonise together well. Harmony Thomas-Brown is fantastic as Heather, as I believed her duress. Romy Mcilroy‘s powerful voice and commanding stage presence in the role of Whatshername also impresses.
Overall, Theatrical’s American Idiot is well worth the look, especially if you love catching rare musicals, love your rock music, and if you are a big Green Day fan. The music and the show itself is lively and entertaining. Just, please take this musical with a grain of salt. Although extremely preachy, the show reflects on what is at most – a captured moment in time. It is by no means the world that we live in today.
American Idiot is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne until March 26th.
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Photography by Nicole Cleary.