Thoughts on American Idiot – Melbourne Previews

American Idiot - February 25, 2018
shake & stir theatre co.
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne

I cut my popular-music teeth on pop-punk and punk rock, and I’ve always been fond of Green Day – enough to fork over the cash to see their arena show last year. After all, I told myself, you have to be able to say you saw Green Day live once. So when I heard that the musical adaptation of their American Idiot album was touring, I knew I had to go – my two favourite musical genres mixed together? I’m normally not a huge fan of jukebox musicals, so this was going to either be my new favourite thing, or a travesty I’d never speak of again.

American Idiot is based on the album of the same name, and features all the songs from that concept album as well as several other Green Day songs (including, of course, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – how could it not?). I’m not too familiar with their later body of work, which proved to be a drawback for this production, as it turned out. The original production ran on Broadway in 2010 and 2011 and won Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design Tonys in 2010; this new staging with an all-new set premiered in Brisbane last year.

We managed to catch a performance right in the middle of the Linden Furnell upheaval, and as such were lucky enough to see understudy Maxwell Simon (recently of Hayes’ Assassins, soon to be of Hayes’ Assassins again) in the lead role of Johnny – he inhabited the part and I can’t imagine a first-cast lead playing it any better. (Ben Bennett has returned to the cast from Muriel’s Wedding to reprise his role as Johnny from the original Brisbane production following Furnell’s departure.) Connor Crawford as Tunny and Alex Jeans as Will rounded out an electric main trio, with Jeans’ incredibly smooth vocals on Give Me Novacaine a standout of the show for me. The only fault I could find with Phoebe Panaretos as Whatsername and Ashleigh Taylor’s Heather was that the strength of their voices sometimes drowned out those of their male counterparts. Kaylah Attard’s ability to perform aerial acrobatics as Extraordinary Girl while singing was impressive.

Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson, playing Johnny’s alter ego St. Jimmy, couldn’t match the on-stage energy of his co-stars in a tolerable but uninspiring performance. Jamieson alternates in this role with Magic Dirt’s Adalita and Sarah McLeod of The Superjesus, and while these names may attract an audience who wouldn’t regularly attend the theatre, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity to feature a local musical theatre performer who could bring a little more pizzazz to the part.

The American Idiot set at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.

Set (Josh McIntosh), video (optikal bloc) and lighting (Matthew Marshall) all came together well to provide an effective technology-driven backdrop to the action, with projections and integrated screens varying the settings and lending a music video-like feel to segments. The cast were in full voice and sounded spectacular – when you could hear them. The audio mixing brought the production down more than anything else: musicals don’t make much sense when you can’t understand the lyrics, and the only time we could make out any words were in the few songs accompanied only by acoustic guitar – the full band, while talented and evocative of the real Green Day, easily drowned out the vocals. (The mix was also just too loud, at the headache-inducing levels usually found at a rock show.) We were left to fill in the gaps in an already-weak narrative by watching the choreography, which had moments of real interest but often seemed a little tired.

The book is definitely the weakest part of this show – there’s only the barest hint of a storyline, which made no sense after the curtain and still doesn’t make much sense after reading the synopsis. It’s also unfortunate that only one female role has an actual name, and that the females mainly function as love interests for the male leads rather than being developed as characters in themselves.

The feeling I had as I walked out of the theatre was one of disappointment – it was a very passable Green Day tribute show, with a cast of criminally underutilised performers and some technical shortcomings that prevented maximum enjoyment. See it for the cast, don’t expect a story.

American Idiot is currently on tour and will open at the Playhouse Theatre in Brisbane on April 13, before moving to the Darwin Entertainment Centre in May.

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