American Idiot was first performed at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California in 2009 before a run on Broadway. American Idiot is a somewhat loose concept album – it’s kind-of about 9/11; it sort-of follows this face-off between the Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy characters. But it’s not Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds; there’s no rigid plotline here. Original US director Michael Mayer acknowledged this, describing the music and lyrics as expressive enough on their own, and whilst that observation accounts for the lack of dialogue and storytelling on offer at this show, it seems also to draw an arc back on the entire thing.
The touring British version of American Idiot stars English folk singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner in the ‘lead role’, alongside ex-X-Factor contestant Amelia Lily. Their performances are fine – to be fair, there’s little to judge them by, positively or negatively, and you wonder if they might shine brighter in more involving roles. Their characters, like all the others in this show, are one-dimensional morons – american idiots if you will. Billy-Joe Armstrong’s ‘american idiot’ was a social silhouette; the ultimate punishment and utmost feared end for the enlightened post-9/11 youth. Newton Faulkner’s ‘american idiot’ is simply an idiot with a sub-par American accent, whose opening remarks (the first of about three in the entire production) concern a particularly nice wank he had the night before. The inter-song content continues a steady plummet in quality as we’re treated explicitly to intravenous drug-use (twice), foundless sex, swearing and most disgusting of all, an almost fetishised, throwaway self-harm scene, grounded in no context whatsoever and forgotten about immediately after. It all seems very reactionary; bloody-minded and sensationalist. Where the music had an intelligent, socio-political measure of things, this show seems to revel in sordid chaos. At moments, the carelessness with which it deals with these issues is quite surprising.
Like anything, your agenda is pivotal. Undoubtedly, the production is an effort to stage, and the quality of this effort is reflected in the excellent costumes, highly energetic performances and visually stimulating choreography. But the content, despite its executor’s grandest efforts, is in my opinion really rather unsalvageable. Even the appearance of a song written by Armstrong especially for the show is disappointing. The gorgeous When It’s Time (performed and released by Green Day in a far superior single version) is trawled through by Faulkner’s character in a drug-riddled stupor.
It really does pain me to give this show such a reverent bashing. But when it comes down to it, I love these albums so much – to see this done to them is almost too much to bear. For anyone still interested at this point in going sometime, a brief idea of the content: you’ll get to hear most of American Idiot, some of 21st Century Breakdown and some B-sides from both records. The story follows three disgusting, disillusioned low-lives on a mindless quest to ‘beat the system’ – one smokes crack, gets a girl pregnant, smokes more crack, watches her leave and then bizarrely wins her back by doing nothing; one joins the military, loses a leg and falls for a very inappropriately dressed nurse in the process; and then there’s Faulkner’s character, the most vile of all, who moves from one putrid drug den to another, shooting up and mindlessly abusing his elders, before winding up back in his old drug den, seemingly none-the-wiser and just as unbearably arrogant as before. In short, no one learns anything. The final treat is a faux-encore of the utterly unrelated Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), during which the whole cast play guitars and sing – they’re really great at doing it, but it feels a bit tacked on.
Now I’m not the definitive opinion on this – a fairly basic collage of performing arts might be all you personally want from this adaptation, in which case, go; the songs are blinding and it’s not an objectively poor staging in itself. My biggest fear leaving the performance was that it might have ruined Green Day for me personally. I rushed home, and piledrived my way through both albums, taking in the original Green Day we all know and love.