Review: American Idiot at New Theatre Oxford
"Relentlessly grungy, smoky and full of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll language – and if you’re a rock fan, it’s spot on."
This is a twenty-first century musical, the plight of disaffected US youth in society’s post 9/11 American underbelly laid bare in a raw and politically-charged punk rock opera.
It’s unusual for a musical to look at bleak contemporary issues but this is no ordinary musical. In essence, it’s a stage adaptation of punk rock band Green Day’s album American Idiot (2004) which although it sounds like a Jim Carrey comedy is anything but. With very little dialogue, an expanded story line, and all the songs from the original album and some extra Green Day tracks (in which the words can be quite hard to hear as rock guitars don’t lend themselves well to a clipped Julie Andrew’s style), this live show is largely a stage concert with an additional storyline carried by the action and an aggressive mood interspersed with emotional pauses.
We see three frustrated young lads flee the restrictions of parental and suburban expectations and get on with the lives available to them. One stays home to work out his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, while Johnny and Tunny head to the city to find freedom and excitement.
While Johnny becomes driven by drugs and loses the woman he loves in the process, Tunny is enticed by the patriotism of the military and heads off to fight for his country in Iraq, losing some of himself along the way, and there’s an interesting parallel in the legalised morphine usage of hospitalised Tunny (with a Bond-style dream sequence to make you smile) in comparison to Johnny’s shadowy habit.
On set there’s an energy and a hopelessness, and an awful lot of scruffy pants and vests, against a backdrop of concrete and graffiti, iron doors and wire fence caging. It’s almost relentlessly grungy, smoky and full of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll language – and if you’re a rock fan, it’s spot on. There are also are some touching moments and some gentler tracks where the voices of the cast shine through – in particular with songs by Amelia Lily as Whatsername and Alexis Gerred as Tunny and a moving performance of ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ towards the end of the second half.
The album American Idiot was released in 2004 and marked a career comeback for Green Day. This musical then won two Tony Awards in 2010 and in 2011, its Broadway cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. The credentials speak for themselves – this is a great show and a rocking night out!
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