American Idiot, the punk rock opera based on Green Day’s 2004 concept album of the same name, is on its 10th anniversary UK tour.
Just like the album, the show comes with a parental advisory warning for explicit content. This hasn’t become any less muted over the past decade. But perhaps the controversy now is not so much that we are seeing hard drug use on stage but that the bleakness of these broken lives is somehow sanitised by a rock song.
There’s a hollowness too in our knowing the nation Green Day mocked for being ‘controlled by the media’ now has a rich reality TV star in the White House and project fear has expanded to the level where the US is planning to wall itself in.
If you’re looking for hope in a new generation, the picture American Idiot leaves us with is bleak.
It follows three boyhood friends: Johnny (Tom Milner), Tunny (Joshua Dowen) and Will (Samuel Pope). There’s a lot more cock-sure choreography than I remember from previous productions. If the lads aren’t grabbing their crotches, they are hitting someone else’s or mimicking masturbation. They are the disillusioned youth, railing at the world while at the same time too lazy to shower. Thankfully they can hold a good tune though, which keeps us watching. You can forgive a lot when the music is this good and the on-stage band is terrific.
Maybe suburbia is the problem, or so the boys think. Each has their own route to escape. Tunny joins the army, Johnny heads for the big city and Will, well it’s hard to tell whether he’s left holding the baby after his girlfriend gets pregnant, or if he’s simply too stoned to get up off the sofa.
Outside their home town reality bites. Oh yes, it gets bleaker. Tunny goes to war, Will smokes more dope and Johnny falls in love, briefly with a passing Whatsername (Sam Lavery), but more heavily for heroin.
X-Factor finalist Luke Friend makes an impressive musical theatre debut as St Jimmy. It’s not clear if his character is a drug dealer or an alter-ego of Johnny, but Friend makes him sleazy and memorable on every appearance. His raspy vocals are well suited to the angry rock sound.
There are some beautiful ballads on the soundtrack too, like Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends. Tom Milner is a strong lead and carries the tunes well.
The split-level set is largely concrete graffiti-covered walls, with a filthy toilet on show throughout. It is all gloriously grungy and grotesque. And once the lads get their hands out of their pants and onto the guitars, the energy of rebellion surges through the auditorium in a way that will no doubt fuel this musical for years to come.★ ★ ★
American Idiot is at Manchester’s Palace Theatre from 2-6 April 2019. See website for full tour details.
Read our interviews with the cast: Sam Lavery; Luke Friend, and Tom Milner.
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