Thank goodness they didn’t call it Greenday: The Musical, because if they had, they wouldn’t have got half the audience they did. American Idiot fills musical theatre spaces with people you don’t tend to find in the West End – 30-something rockers and eye-linered late teens. Greenday’s output is nuanced and somewhat theatrical, so the fanbase expects something more than your average jukebox string-of-hits, and yet also expects a faithful live show worthy of Billie Joe himself. American Idiot provides both a rock-concert feel and a sophisticated piece of theatre in the cavernous space that is Hammersmith Apollo. Will you enjoy it if you’re a die-hard Greenday fan? I think it would be hard not to. Will you enjoy it if you’re not quite so into them? I think it’s entirely probable.
The plot is kinda elusive. Three friends decide to move to the city, one is way-laid by his pregnant girlfriend, one is lured into the army, and the third gets caught up in a world of narcotics. On their own, these three threads are tragic but well-explored stock stories of the trials of ‘modern youth’. American Idiot is brilliant by shoving all three in a blender, presenting us with a sometimes baffling collage of experiences, which more often than not the audience must work out for themselves. This is quite a coup, since not only does that allow Greenday’s back-catalogue to be split into three subject areas (rotting in suburbia, hyperpatriotism and war, partying into oblivion), but it also represents the baffling string of unconnected events that most of us experience day in, day out.
It seems wrong somehow to single out individual performances – American Idiot is very much an ensemble piece, it happens on a very deep stage far away from the audience, and the characters are loosely sketched. Alex Nee shone in the lead role of Johnny, a proxy for front-man Billie Joe Armstrong, by invoking the spirit of the band, without merely mimicking its lead singer. Vocals were generally strong across the cast, and the best bits were the complex harmonies behind the mellower songs.
The choreography was astonishingly brilliant. I don’t hesitate to call it the best musical theatre choreography I’ve seen live. Little wonder – devised as it was by Frantic Assembly co-founder and artistic director Steven Hoggett. Quite often characters dance out their rage, and here the movement becomes violent, tribal and ritualistic. In the softer sections dance became more poignantly expressive – during ‘Last Night On Earth’ the drug-inflicted couple are tied together by their syringe paraphernalia. Choreography may not seem to be the ‘point’ of a Greenday stage show, but I’m banging on about it because it bowled me over.
This is a baffling show, neither rock concert nor book musical, with plenty of strobe to keep you from engaging with the plot. However, underneath its violence and attitude there’s a glint of brilliance.