AMERICAN IDIOT AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Monday 26 November - Saturday 1 December
Performance Viewed: Monday 26 November (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
American Idiot is an ilk of production that many would unfairly dismiss at face value. From the offset it is loud, bombastic, decidedly adult in tone and content and never particularly subtle or subdued. Much like a typical teenager if you will, and the parallel to the core audience of the shows soundtrack, courtesy of US hit band Green Day, is apparent throughout; this is a show with its finger on the pulse of youthful idealism, naivety and existential frustration. And yet for all of it’s brash excess, it is a production which brims with authenticity, has moments of genuine tenderness without resorting to atypical musical theatre schmaltz, and is a remarkably confident and original example of theatrical storytelling and entertainment. This is not a theatrical shoehorning of narrative, choreography and the music of Green Day into an awkward whole as can so often be the case when shows’ utilise pre-existing music for their soundtracks, but rather a wholly complete, vibrant and brilliantly expressive exploration of a simple yet beautifully executed tale in a manner which champions and explores the unique strengths and advantages of musical theatre as an art form.
Dipping into post 9/11 America, the story follows the paths of three friends Johnny (Alex Nee), Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) and Will (Casey O’Farrell) as they embark on very separate, yet equally resonant and relevant, paths at the exciting, ambitious and suitably angst-fuelled start of their American adulthood. In spite of the productions title, and knowing critiques and digs at the American psyche, politics and popular culture within the songs throughout, the simplicity of the story being told and the brilliance with which it is communicated almost exclusively by song and staging elevates it to a much more universal and effective level. Any overt socio-political commentary takes a backseat to the reality of aspirations and youthful rebellion, the destructive descent into drugs and hedonism of the big city lifestyle, the idea versus actuality of military enrollment and a plethora of other innately human and instantly relatable ideas.
The core trio of characters are instantly likeable and relatable, though of the three, Will’s story of staying at home and facing the realities of being a young dad in an unhappy, stagnant relationship, isolated almost exclusively to his sofa, is the most rudimentary and streamlined. None of the characters to be found here are explored in any particular depth - what we do learn of them is more reactionary and emotional, but in many ways this segues perfectly into the downbeat and somewhat world-weary ending which allows the show as a whole to be a knowing and refreshingly honest look at the fragility of youthful idealism and dreaming.
The cast, transferred over from the US run, are uniformly terrific, with lead Alex Nee putting in a stellar turn that bristles with a raw ferocity and edge throughout, notably charting the characters’ highs and lows with a brilliant physicality and top-knotch vocals. O’Farrell, as mentioned, is given the least exciting tale to tell, yet is engaging and endearing in spite of this and demonstrates perhaps the strongest vocals of the three leads. Hettrick’s turn as Nutty is more overtly effecting and emotional in it’s development, including one of the productions most ambitious and beautiful sequences, and the young actor should be given credit for his nuanced and moving performance, particularly in Act 2. The moving, metallic-hued set and staging design is brilliantly evocative of the rock-pop roots of the show, littered with TV screens as it is lending an MTV/music-video slant to proceedings with images and messages perpetuating the music throughout, and even some inventive live recording/relaying of the performances on stage. In all departments and across all fronts the show innovates and impresses.
As someone who was never a particular fan or enthusiast of Green Day, but nonetheless familiar with a selection of their more well-known hits, American Idiot was a surprising and exciting theatre-going experience that defied all initial expectations and misconceptions. At just under 2 hours (including a 15 minute interval) it is a succinct, lean production which moves at a brisk pace and manages to maintain an infectious spark and drive throughout. If any of this review seems somewhat hyperbolic, it is because it is almost impossible to not be swept along and won over by a genuinely original and inspired production that is so full of energy and creativity and one that never rests on its laurels or defaults to any musical status-quo. The content and vibrance means it will not be to everyone’s taste, but is undoubtedly a must-see for musical theatre enthusiasts, and those who do let themselves be dissuaded from seeing it will miss in American Idiot quite possibly the most inimitable, entertaining and accomplished touring theatrical production of the year.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)
AMERICAN IDIOT is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 26 November to Saturday 1 December 2012.
CLICK HERE for more information on the shows run at the New Alexandra and to book your tickets!