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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Work Light Productions presents


American Idiot


Developed by Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Nov. – Dec. 2008, and New York Stage and Film and the Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar, July 2009


Alex Nee (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT

Photo by John Daughtry


Music by Green Day

Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong

Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Director - Michael Mayer

Choreographer – Steven Hoggett

Arrangements and Orchestrations – Tom Kitt

Scenic Design by Christine Jones

Costume Design by Andrea Laurer

Lighting Design – Kevin Adams

Sound Design – Brian Ronan

Video/Projection Design – Darrel Maloney


Hammersmith HMV Apollo


4 – 16 December, 2012


Reflecting on the turbulence of their times through music has been a natural birthright of youth through many eras. American Idiot redresses the era of Green Day’s 2004 Grammy Award winning seventh studio album, bleeding into present reflections on the Iraq war, the sometimes literal highs and lows of being young and the general apathy inherent to U.S. ‘rednecks’ and mass consumerism.

In its musical theatre format, American Idiot premiered at Berkley Repertory Theatre in September, 2009, where it enjoyed a three week extension prior to its’ opening before moving onto St. James’ Theatre on Broadway in April 2010, after which it was nominated for Best Musical and won Tonys, for Scenic and Lighting Design in a Musical. Reviews, like the show’s content, were mixed, though it apparently garnered a rave write up from the New York Times. The shows theatre of origin, Berkley Rep played a role in its’ production as they were then looking for ‘work that crossed generational lines.’ The show culminates its’ UK tour with a two week run at one of London’s premiere music venues, HMV Hammersmith Apollo.

Struggling to come to terms with life in America in the run up to and bleak aftermath of 9/11, three young men, Johnny (Green Day front-man Billie Joe Armstrong lookalike Alex Nee), Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) and Will (Casey O’ Farrell) each etch their own escape routes from suburbia. Johnny heads for the city lights, with all their attending temptations, Tunny, what he perceives as the biggest issue – War in Iraq, and Will reluctantly becomes a father. Prefaced in simplistic diary terms by Johnny, i.e. ‘April 1st,  shot up for the first time,’ songs from Green Day’s album American Idiot are performed by cast and onstage band, along with a couple of tracks from Green Day’s eighth album, 21st Century Breakdown (2009). Johnny’s city lover ‘Whatshername’ (Alyssa DiPalma) smacks of anima/mother figure disjointedness, a reoccurring theme often referenced via discernable snippets of song lyrics.

Admittedly, at the outset of my research, I was not a particular fan of Green Day’s music nor was I ever a lover of dialogue-less musicals. However, my mind was open as I’d already let the sunshine in, so to speak, many years ago, through this show’s much more daring (in its’ day) ‘60’s forerunner, Hair. However, as inflated ticket prices for Rolling Stones concerts recently confirmed, Woodstock is dead. Long may its’ anti-war, peace and love ethos reign, strains of which trickle through here, streaking their way through the testosterone fuelled, neo punk/rock, albeit market conscious anti- redneck American scene being scaled.  1955 cult film Rebel Without A Cause tipped the scales of teenage angst in a suburban California direction, a decidedly upmarket vision quickly taken to portray typical American teens by James Dean fans round the world. Perhaps Armstrong seeks to echo that.

Ramones influenced title track ‘American Idiot’ is in your face, as anticipated, and cinematically suburban in its’ atypically whinier moments as three young men sing of their same shit, different day diet of masturbation, pot and beer. Though I admire the show’s advice to ban blandness, it didn’t convince me it’s totally against that in its more mundane dips, strewn intermittently throughout, despite the verve and energy of its outstanding cast. Ever a sucker for innovative choreography, I was enthralled by Black Watch innovator Steven Hoggett’s succinct yet hugely demonstrative movements, thematically twinned as tightly with their combative score as front man to guitarist.  Sadly, I was unable to discern many of the lyrics of the songs through the decidedly murky sound system which often threatened to dull the edges of their potentially sharp pairing. To be fair to Green Day, their music performed live, by them, is mega times more compelling than it ever could be in the course of this or any other show. Unfortunate but true, the muddy sound in the cavernous theatre dampened even the most ardently performed numbers, so the live onstage band and singers were almost negated at times, and I oft found myself wishing for the intimacy of a smaller venue.

However, technical obstacles couldn’t stem the overwhelming tide of positive reaction to 2005 Grammy winning Green Day hit, ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’,  a number destined to catch even the most wary listener unaware. ‘Give Me Novocaine,’ an out and out rocker with sublimely dark, strangely uplifting staging matching its’ odd effervescence was another definitive highlight.

Christine Jones’ urban set, with its’ industrial New York fire escape aspects features a plethora of screens housing projections of imagery and sound from history and popular culture, collectively setting a mood. Having come of age during the Vietnam era when there was a distinct shortage of nineteen year old males around, I could easily have synched with the seemingly rotating historical phenomena of hapless young men being used as cannon fodder, so it’s a shame the poignancy of that tragic thread, as demonstrated through ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ didn’t come across in the musical, as movingly as it does in the song’s video. That said, a multi-guitarist rendering of this ballad is nevertheless, still strong and effective in the show, generating memorable moments.

A high energy committed cast, well thought out and synched choreography and a score capable of waking the living dead is much more than you’ll find in most contemporary musicals you might say. It is indeed. But considering the kicking lyrics and frantic delivery of Green Day themselves, given all the show’s atypical musical theatre tricks, some of which seem out of place here, it is somehow, not as much as hoped for. Maybe within the framework of vacuous consumer culture that’s the idea.

Alyssa DiPalma (Whatsername) and Alex Nee (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT 
Photo by Turner Rouse, Jr


HMV Hammersmith Apollo
45 Queen Caroline Street  
W6 9QH

Box office - 0843 221 0100

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