American Idiot Review (Perth Season)
Words by Scott Martin
Green Day have been pretty inactive in Australia in recent years; their last big headline tour prior to 2017 was way back in 2009 for their ‘21st Century Breakdown’ tour. But they hit the ground running after the release of their twelfth(!) studio album ‘Revolution Radio’ in late 2016 with a massive world-tour that yes, included Australia for the first time in many years. But that’s not the only involvement Green Day have had with our great country recently. Right now, a stage musical adaption of their 2004 epic concept album ‘American Idiot’ is currently touring. Being a massive Green Day fan since the release of that album, I made sure to see ‘American Idiot: The Musical” during the west-side leg of the tour.
The plot follows the story of three boyhood friends, each searching for meaning in a post 9/11, Trumpian-suburbia, discovering love, loss, drugs, sex and rock and roll along the way. As far as on-stage musicals go, the story in American Idiot is admittedly…pretty weak. But the adaptation on the whole did a wonderful job in taking the story-line from the album and extending it to reapply the songs to fit these new original stage characters, not just ‘Jesus’ and ‘Whatsername’ of the record. For example, songs like ‘Are We the Waiting’ and ‘Extraordinary Girl’ were given to the character of Tully, one of the boyhood friends rather than Johnny, who is this adaptions lead, based on the Jesus of Suburbia of the album. This was handled incredibly well, remaining faithful to the original song’s themes and ideas but reassigning them to new characters as to expand the storylines of the musical to, in my opinion, an even more impactful effect than in the context of the album.
The Australian run of American Idiot has a fantastic cast from the leads to the ensemble. Interestingly, the role of St Jimmy (the alter-ego personification of Johnny’s lust for a drug filled, carefree and manic life) is played by three different actors. These are Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon, Adalita of Magic Dirt and Sarah McLeod of The Superjesus. Phil Jamieson carried the role in Perth, and absolutely nailed it. Jamieson has more of a swagger than an in-your-face psychopathic Jimmy which I enjoyed more than I expected if I were read that on paper. Whenever Jimmy is on stage, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Jamieson has such a presence and I’m sure the same can be applied to Adalita and McLeod as well, each certainly bringing their own style of anarchism to the role.
Johnny, played by Linden Furnell, embodied his character wonderfully. Again, as a fan of American Idiot the album for so long, it was strange to see that character come to life in front of me, but with such big imaginary shoes to fill, Furnell made a live-action Jesus (Johnny in this case) work just as I have imagined since I first heard the album. With magnificent rock vocals, Furnell carried Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics with a powerful confidence and style. Though I will say, while having a terrific voice while performing those high energy rock opera tunes, I may have even enjoyed his slower and more vulnerable performances more. Tracks like ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ and ‘Whatsername’ particularly stood out. The same can be said for the character of Will, played by Alex Jeans. It’s a shame Will’s character doesn’t really get up to much throughout the production despite being one of the leads. Jeans’ voice was probably my favourite of the bunch, and it would’ve been nice to hear him a little more.
In 2010 ‘American Idiot The Musical’ won a Tony award for best scenic design of a musical and best lighting design of a musical. While the Australian tour may be slightly stripped down from the original US production, these aspects were on-point throughout the show. There were a total of 15 screens as well as projections taking place on the stages back-drop. Using the screens to not only to represent TVs, but also a metaphorical look into Johnny’s psyche as Jimmy sings the opening of ‘Homecoming’. The projections were often graffiti of Johnny’s dialogue, messily written as if scribbled through tear-filled eyes. The aesthetic of the stage design was a perfect match for the subject matter of ‘American Idiot’.
All throughout American Idiot the Musical I was tapping my feet, lip syncing along to the words and smiling like an idiot. It’s a perfect mix of musical theatre and hard rock that speaks to the youths of today just as Green Day intended in 2004. Who’d have thought the same issues then with the Bush administration would be just as relevant today in 2018?
Oh, and also – my favourite part of the entire production was one very ultra-specific Green Day reference that really excited me. During ‘Letterbomb’, Whatsername screamed out ‘WAKE UP!’ during the outro. This is a really awesome little nod to the ‘Awesome as F***’ live performance recordings, in which Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong noticed the crowd was dying down hype and, as you would expect, he was trying to get them to…wake up. The stage version was in the exact same spot as the live performance version from Green Day and it’s the little nods like that that prove that this production not only did it’s research, but absolutely loves their source material