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American Idiot – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writers: Billie Joe Armstrong &Michael Mayer

Music: Green Day

Lyrics: Billie Joe Armstrong

Director: Michael Mayer

Reviewer: Jacqui Onions


American Idiot is the award-winning musical featuring the songs of Green Day. Centred around three young men – childhood best friends – finding their way in post-9/11 America and the very different journeys life takes them on, there is a lot of potential in the story for a new musical that is relevant in the world today. Couple this with an edgy rock soundtrack and you have the makings of a fantastic show.

However, American Idiot seems to have a case of confused identity. As a theatrically staged rock concert, it ticks all the right boxes. Great songs performed by top-class singers and musicians against the backdrop of an urban, industrial set, designed by Christine Jones, and complemented perfectly by Steven Hoggett’s contemporary choreography. This is a high energy show that will make you want to dance and sing along. But this is not a rock concert with the audience on its feet, singing with their favourite band (although some of the audience find it difficult to resist joining in); it is a serious, hard hitting musical with a story to tell. Unfortunately, that story is not explored to its full potential.

Although the show is about the lives of three friends, it focusses predominantly on Johnny and his journey from ideas of fighting the establishment to his own fight against drug addiction. With the attention predominantly on this character, the potentially gripping and emotional stories of Will, who abandons his own dreams to support his pregnant girlfriend, and Tunny, who is blinded by propaganda and soon finds himself living with the horrific realitiesof war, are almost completely lost. It becomes very difficult to relate to these characters as only brief snapshots of their lives are shown.

The sound balance often makes many of the lyrics indecipherable, and since American Idiot is a rock opera with hardly any spoken word, this just adds to the loss of story and the lack of audience connection with the characters.

A further distraction comes in the form of Kevin Adams’ lighting design, which is also more suited to a rock concert than a theatre audience. Having strobe lights blind the audience once or twice to emphasise the drama would be punchy and effective, but it is used so often throughout the show that it becomes uncomfortable to watch and some audience members can even be seen shielding their eyes.

The cast are incredible and this show is worth seeing, particularly if you are a Green Day fan, for the quality of their performances, but if you are looking to relate to a modern musical that will stir your emotions then look elsewhere.

Runs until 20th October 2012.

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