If Billie Joe Armstrong could’ve foreseen where America was heading a decade on from Green Day’s American Idiot, he might have jacked in the day job, figuring real life was stranger than fiction. Written in response to George W Bush’s Presidency – by turns comically inept and frighteningly ideological – the album, performed in its entirety here, reflects a very American, very teen alienation of punk, drugs, sex and toilet humour.
That ambiance is front and centre in the musical adaptation of American Idiot, which threads a loose narrative through the concept album in the form of three music-loving friends who spend their time getting high, miming sex acts and not showering. But in the parting of the ways, one gets his girlfriend in the club, another heads to the Big City to become a star and the third joins the army.
The startling logo of album and musical is a broken heart resembling a grenade clasped in a fist. It’s emblematic, evocative – and representative of the seam Green Day are able to mine to such strong effect. Judging by the audience’s reaction, the music and lyrics really tap into something that speaks to younger people.
An impressive dual-level set, energetic choreography and robust performances mean American Idiot never loses momentum. It doesn’t stops to catch its breath, but that’s problematic when the sound levels don’t seem quite right and the narration is so sparse. It’s not always evident what’s going on, so it’s hard to care about the characters or figure out their motivations.
When one of the lead trio – names seem dispensable in the production and a rarely mentioned – joins the army it seems to come out of nowhere, although it’s presumably present somewhere in the often inaudible lyrics. It’s the first night at the Playhouse, however, so hopefully these links are ironed out in due course. Certainly the sound seemed better in the second half.
The cast hit all the right notes, consisting of a crowd-pleasing mix of young actors, reality show contestants and West End ingenues – despite the odd wonky accent and a good few years between some of the troupe. Fans of the band will lap it up and Tom Milner as Johnny gets Armstrong’s trademark vocals spot on; if Green Day suggests nothing more than a day in the country, you may be bemused by the noisy, filthy, grungy spectacle of it all.
In the end three friends go their separate ways, find life’s not what it’s cracked up to be and reunite in the dead-end town they started off in. It doesn’t seem to amount to much, but in an idiot America that offers young people drugs, drudgery or death at the hands of the military-industrial complex maybe that’s the point. Perhaps Armstrong is considering a sequel.
Until 13 July