American Idiot


24th March 2016

American Idiot Review
Curve Studio

Our rating: *****

Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Director and Choreographer Racky Plews

Fifteen years ago I was watching Billy Joe Armstrong and his punk band Green Day performing live at The Reading Festival. I have been loving their music ever since. The audience in Curve Studio theatre tonight also loved it; they gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was one of the best musical events I have seen at Curve, or anywhere else for that matter.

So many things stood out for me in this show: all the cast members danced, sang and acted and played guitars; in fact in one scene they are all on stage playing guitars – en masse. You won’t see that again in a musical in a long time. The cast were very ably supported by a live band; some of the band guitarists were on stage, on a platform above the main performance area. The three principals sang songs accompanying themselves on guitars.

Green Day's American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March. Picture from 2015 London production. Photo: Darren Bell.
Green Day’s American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March.
Picture from 2015 London production.
Photo: Darren Bell.

The moment that stole the show for me was Matt Thorpe singing Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; the Green Day song that has a special resonance for me; I quoted from the lyrics in my novel The Trench, were its sentiments epitomised what rock bands often seem to feel about working in live music. Not what the song is about but hey it seemed to fit anyway.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

American Idiot is a punk rock opera; its roots could be said to lie in the rich soil of Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and various other productions that have broken the mould of musical theatre over the past few decades. Green Day’s album of the same name was released in 2004, the musical being premiered in 2009 at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre prior to the show moving on to Broadway.

Tonight’s show at Curve’s Studio was absolutely marvellous. The standing ovation given by the audience at the final curtain was well deserved. The singing was fantastic, the dance was massively good, the acting amazing and the whole show a complete sensation.

American Idiot was exciting, colourful, dramatic, engrossing, poignant, enjoyable… no shortage of adjectives to describe how good it was. The show opens with the cast singing and dancing to American Idiot, the hit title song Green Day’s album of 2004. A number that fizzed with unbridled vitality.

Well maybe I’m the faggot America.
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

Everyone in the cast was good but Matt Thorpe (who played Johnny) was pretty amazing; Tunny (played by Alexis Gerred) was electric and Amelia Lily (as Whatsername) wonderful, Steve Rushton as Will, superb. The performance of the cast sizzled with energy. These guys really rocked out bringing it all to life on the stage.

We did not see the drummer Alex Marchisone until he came on stage for the curtain call right at the end. But the guitarists were visible for most of the show which was great because seeing them playing live gave the whole thing an extra resonance.

The show tells the story of three friends from a suburban area, following different journeys in search of their true selves. Through the songs they express their love, their rage and their struggles. The theme of the show includes a preoccupation with TV and a screen is lowered over the stage from time to time. The story line revolves around the lives of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Will’s girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant. Johnny wanders through the city streets pining for a woman he saw in a window. Tunny enlists for the army. Johnny starts to shoot heroin. Will feels trapped in life as a father with a baby and Tunny is shot while on active service.

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

Well there is a lot more to the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you; I just want you to see it. American Idiot is one of the best productions I have seen at Curve – and there have been a few of them. The show’s eight day run in Leicester is a great shame, for its brevity,   but it’s on tour and many other audiences in many other towns will want to see it. The show is moving on to several other cities in the UK between now and July.

Find out more about the show on the American Idiot website

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

See also:

Our coverage of Rent, the musical

Blood Brothers review

Rocky Horror Show review