Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Music: Green Day
Lyrics: Billie Joe Armstrong
Director: Racky Plews
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty
Green Day’s exciting rock musical, American Idiot is on the road for its third UK tour, celebrating its 10th anniversary. The fast-paced show stops by Milton Keynes Theatre to rock the stage and bring Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name, alive.
American Idiot follows three childhood friends who are fed up and disillusioned by life in suburban post-9/11 America. It tells the story of Johnny, who moves to the big city to find himself but soon falls into the despair of drug addiction, self-loathing and loneliness as he loses everyone he cares about.
The book, penned by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, has themes that still resonate now, 17 years after the horrendous terrorist attacks that so shocked the world: the political unrest, the disenfranchised youth rebelling against conformity are still relevant today. It is a shame, however, that the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The characters have very little in the way of development, we know nothing at all about them which makes it very difficult to connect with their stories. The musical numbers – while full of passion – are not quite enough to carry the story completely on their own without dialogue.
Tom Milner’s performance as Johnny is excellent. His beautiful, raspy voice is perfect for Green Day’s angst-filled tracks and he seems right at home front and centre, holding the audience’s attention with every moment he’s on stage. There are some tough-to-watch scenes involving drug taking, but Milner performs them incredibly intelligently and makes it all very believable. A very moving performance of a damaged character who desperately needs help.
Luke Friend, who got his break when he came third on ITV’S The X Factor in 2013, stars in his professional theatre debut as St Jimmy, Johnny’s drug addict alter-ego. This aspect is quite difficult to work out, whether intentional or not, with the effect that it is a little confusing for audience members who are not familiar with Green Day’s album. Nevertheless, Friend has great stage presence in a rôle that really requires him to throw everything he has at it – which he does very well.
The female characters are hardly explored at all, unfortunately, being simply there as the other half of a relationship. Many of them are completely forgettable with the exception of Sam Lavery, who plays Whatsername, who battles with everything she’s got to give the character as much of a story as possible. Her voice is stunning and one of the highlights of the show is her angry solo, Letterbomb, in which she viciously confronts Johnny about his destructive behaviour.
American Idiot is visually impressive and Sara Perks’ stage design is brilliant. The set is situated across two floors, with the top housing the incredible live band and a small, claustrophobic sitting room while the stage area moulds into bedrooms, bus stations and the streets. The design also incorporates the use of stunning videography, which is one of the aspects that really stands out for the show – especially when it is used in the musical numbers.
While there is little in the way of character development, the music is exceptional. Green Day’s now iconic punk rock album comes alive in the theatre setting, enhanced by the live band who really make it seem like you are at a gig rather than watching a musical. It is loud, angry and emotional – a winning combination! Numbers including American Idiot and Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Johnny’s revealing and emotional When It’s Time, and the heartbreaking, Wake Me Up When September Ends are outstanding.
While the strengths of American Idiot are in the music and the passion-fuelled performances of the hard-working and energetic cast, this musical is a good night out for those who love Green Day’s songs and are looking for an excuse to rock out.
Runs Until 27 April 2019 and on tour | Image: Mark Dawson