Some of my fondest and most vivid memories are those of singing along to American Idiot in the backseat of mum’s car alongside my brother, back when the song was first released in 2004. Now 13 years on, that song, and the 12 others of Green Day’s highly-esteemed ‘American Idiot’ are still some of the most influential and well-recognised pop-punk tracks of all time. More recently, however, the award-winning record was adapted for the theatre by Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong himself, and was elaborated into a powerful production which resultantly featured heavily on both West End and Broadway, season after season.
Now for the first time on Australian shores, the theatre adaptation opened at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre to a mixed crowd. An array of musical lovers and pop-punk diehards collided, with a clash of Dr. Martens and eyeliner among the stilettos and collared shirts you come to expect in the Playhouse theatre. As a Green Day and musical fan, and my boyfriend an even bigger Green Day one, it seemed only fit to purchase tickets for the show as his Christmas present (kudos to me; a present we could both enjoy!), and we’d been waiting ever-so patiently for the opening night to arrive. And, we certainly weren’t disappointed.
The performance was surprisingly opened with the house lights up, as we met the characters of the show one by one. They tuned into the day’s breaking news, watching as political wars and real wars unfolded on their television sets. Minutes later, and without so much as a 1-2-3-4, the high-octane musical kicked into gear with the classic American Idiot punchy riff. From there, the audience were taken on a whirlwind of rock and roll, dance numbers, and emotional letters from lead rocker Johnny.
American Idiot The Musical follows the story of the three characters developed within Green Day’s punk rock opera album; Johnny (Ben Bennett) alongside his alter ego St. Jimmy (portrayed by the ever-rocking Chris Cheney of The Living End), as well as Johnny’s two best mates Will (Alex Jeans) and Tunny (Cameron MacDonald). The audience followed the trio’s journey, through the demeaning reality of a media-saturated society, the trials and tribulations of their disillusionment with the world, and naturally the friendships, rage, and love along the way.
Presented by shake & stir and QPAC, American Idiot The Musical was undoubtedly one of the most impressive musical productions I’ve ever seen, if not the most impressive live performance of anything I’ve ever seen. From beginning to end, the performance was full-throttle, and without a doubt showcased the talent of not only the cast but also the playwright. A personal highlight for myself was Ben Bennett’s portrayal of Johnny, who provided a seamless mixture of imperfect, yet totally believable vocals and stellar emotive performances. Though he mostly surprised us with the sheer number of times he could undress and redress onstage! After reading countless feature interviews with lead role holders Chris Cheney and Phil Jamieson prior to opening night, I can say that an interview with the real star would not have gone astray.
Fully aware that I can’t complete this review without discussing the obvious, I must say that Chris Cheney’s portrayal of the evil and manipulative St. Jimmy was outstanding. And, despite often opposing the casting of superstars among regular cast, I can say that for a musical of American Idiot, casting one of Australia’s most recognisable rockers could not make more sense. I’m just jealous of those who get to witness Phil Jamieson’s portrayal during in the season!
Another highlight for me was the spectacular vocals and dancing performances by the four females within the cast. In particular, the Extraordinary Girl, played by the extremely talented Rowena Vilar, wowing us all with mesmerising aerial acrobatics while suspended from the ceiling, with spectacularly angelic vocals all the while.
After eagerly awaiting the night ever since the show was announced, I can safely say I’d highly recommend the show to anyone wanting to relive their mid-2000s punk-rock selves, or even just for an absolutely rocking night out. If the audience’s double standing ovation is anything to go by, it’s a show not to miss!