Christmas party season was put on hold last week when Green Day's American Idiot musical rolled into town. Having had great reviews on Broadway and even starring Billie Joe Armstrong as 'St Jimmy' on occasion, the full US production has undertaken a UK tour culminating in two sold-out weeks at the Hammersmith Apollo.
I'm a massive fan of the American Idiot album and I was fortunate to see Green Day at Brixton Academy on that tour. It is one of my all-time gig highlights and the energy and crowd interaction on all the tracks from the album was incredible. You could really sense that it was something special.
But could it really become a Broadway musical?
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American Idiot is one of Green Day's best. It is a rare musical gem which absolutely captures the mood of a generation. It's melodic, Broadway-friendly no less, and yet fiercely political and wonderfully EMO. Designed as a conceptual piece in response to the realities of post 9/11 America, there was always scope to 'do more' with the album and when theatre director Michael Mayer approached the band they agreed to collaborate on the musical show.
So here we are, Thursday night in Hammersmith and you could hear a pin drop! I was last here with standing tickets for Slash earlier in the year, with the usual rock crowd, stench of beer and overflowing toilets. Tonight's very odd because the venue seems quiet and it's clean and has seats. My head knows that I'm at the theatre but my heart wants to be back at Green Day in Brixton.
The show kicks off with 'American Idiot' – led by an absolutely knockout house band. They're on stage as part of the set and the band leader even looks like Billie Joe Armstrong. The story is basically the conceptual idea from American Idiot fleshed out into a wider narrative. There are three main characters, Will, Tunny and Johnny and their stories run parallel throughout.
Will gets his girlfriend pregnant and stays stuck at home in smalltown America. Tunny and Johnny get out to the big city where Johnny falls into drugs and finds his alter-ego, 'St Jimmy', while Tunny loses direction, joins the army and goes to war. Extra characters from the album's songs build on the emotion and relationships – Whatsername, Heather and Extraordinary girl.
There's not much more to add – it's really just a chance to sit back and enjoy the ensemble cast belt out not just 'American Idiot' but some great B-sides, a few off '21st Century Breakdown' and a gorgeous new song – 'When It's Time'.
Does it work?
Nearly. The cast are fantastic. Straight off the set of One Tree Hill, they're all young, fun and full of…energy…and really give 100%. The band ensure the music sounds better than ever – stand-out numbers include '21 Guns', 'Letterbomb' and 'Whatsername' – but there are very few weak moments. Mixing up the male and female singers works a treat and although it is rather 'artistic' at times, it's hardly 'Rent'.
Bizarrely the crowd is silent throughout. I've heard that Rock Of Ages is a total blast, with costumes, hen nights and tons of interaction. But tonight it is so sensible that you could almost be in the audience at The Royal Variety Performance. Having seen Green Day play live, and knowing how enormously powerful these songs are, there's a huge urge to stand up, throw a few beers and get moshing down the front. We don't, obviously. But it needs it.
Overall this was a cool piece of theatre and really great to have some decent source material instead of ABBA or the latest abortion featuring Spice Girls songs. If you really have to go to the theatre, then this is a musical you can go to with your head held high. And the story may be a little thin, but it does more than enough to emphasise that 'We Will Rock You' is complete nonsense.
But in Christmas panto season if I could have one wish from the genie in the lamp it would be to be back at Brixton Academy hearing 'American Idiot' live for the first time – while the real Green Day burned through some of my favourite songs of all time: 'Jesus Of Suburbia', 'Holiday', 'Are We The Waiting', 'St Jimmy', 'Homecoming'... and the rest... pure unadulterated rock 'n' roll joy!
Green Day's 'American Idiot' runs until Sunday 16th December.
Jonathan Churchill. MetalTalk.net \m/
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