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Review: American Idiot

reviews Jan 15, 2018
Photo credit: American Idiot (Australia)

When American Idiot opened on Broadway in 2010, it won two Tony Awards and a Grammy Award and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical. The Australian tour has just finished its Sydney season and, judging by the sellout crowd at yesterday’s second-last performance, it’s set to be as much of a hit here as in the States.

The musical follows the lives of three disillusioned boyhood friends trying to avoid becoming suburban ‘American Idiots’. Against a backdrop of news clips, propaganda and war scenes, Johnny (Linden Furnell), Tunny (Connor Crwaford) and Will (Alex Jeans) mess up spectacularly: Will gets his girlfriend pregnant; Tunny joins the army and is injured almost immediately; Johnny moves to the city to make his name as a musician, only to become addicted to drugs.

Show-stopping performances came from Phoebe Panaretos as Whatsername — a role that earned her a Helpmann Award nomination last year — and Furnell, whose lithe, explosive moves injected the musical with a raging, boundless energy. Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson, who plays drug dealer St Jimmy, is also wonderfully slick and sleazy.

American Idiot takes its name from Green Day’s 2004 studio album, the one that sold over 15 million copies worldwide and hit number one in 19 countries. The songs from this album, as well as some from the follow-up 21st Century Breakdown, form the impetus for the storyline. And the stomping, jumping, hair-tossing choreography that goes with it is frenetic and utterly enthralling.

Even if you’re not a Green Day fan, you’ll be amazed at how many songs you recognise, and how versatile the band’s repertoire is.

This production has been updated from the original and is now set in the dystopian Trump era. It opens on a set where Trump’s election campaign is broadcast across several TV screens and throughout we see signs and slogans such as ‘Mexico will pay for it’ and ‘Will the real stable genius please stand up?’

In the Sydney Opera House matinee show, well-heeled audience members shared the space with Green Day fans wearing band shirts, black leather and multiple piercings. Somehow it’s not weird — you get the feeling that everyone’s there for a good time, which the show delivers in spades.

If you don’t mind a rock-concert vibe to your musicals, some swear words and flipped birds then American Idiot should be on your must-see list. You’ll have the time of your life.

American Idiot must close in Brisbane on 21 April; save 40% on tickets.

Catherine Mah

Catherine likes to run, eat and read but not simultaneously. If you can't find her doing these things, she's most likely sleeping.