Culture Critic Louisa Bebb reviews GMTG’s “weird and wonderful” production of American Idiot
We live in an age with plenty of weird and wonderful jukebox musicals, but to me the songs of American punk rock band Green Day seemed like a particularly unusual soundtrack. It’s for that reason I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I visited the guild last week to watch the Guild Musical Theatre Group’s production of American Idiot. It’s fair to say I was very pleasantly surprised.
Set in during the Bush administration and amidst the Iraq war, American Idiot is a gritty tale of three friends trying to break free from their suburban existence and make their mark in the big city. The stage opens on a group of disgruntled young adults stuck in the suburbs, and a powerful and punchy performance of the title song ‘American Idiot’ wonderfully portrays the frustration felt by the characters. The costumes were superb and wonderfully complimented the edgy feel to this musical. The set too should be commended; props were not restricted to the stage and the entire debating hall was decorated with posters protesting against President Bush, the Iraq war and suburban life – an attention to detail which didn’t go unnoticed and was a point of discussion for many audience members.
But it was the live band which excited me the most. Performing no less than 20 of Green Days greatest hits, the band provided an incredible authenticity and a raw sound that was essential for this particular show.
We were soon introduced to the self-proclaimed Jesus of Suburbia, lovable rogue Johnny. Making such a troubled antihero likable is a difficult job for any actor, but Iain Alexander managed it effortlessly, bringing enough conviction to the role to ensure that, despite his flaws, Johnny was impossible to hate.
He and his friend Tunny, played by Callum Thompson, escape to the city during the song “Holiday”. The chorography perfectly captures the optimism felt by Johnny and Tunny, creating an air of excitement and intrigue to where this new adventure will take them. The show was in fact Thompson’s acting debut, a surprising fact when you take into consideration his emotional performance as a young man who decides to join the military.
Johnny’s love interest, whom he refers to as simply ‘Whatshername’, was brought to life by Antonia Forrest. Forrest’s vocals were powerful throughout, a stand out performance being “Letterbomb”, during which Whatshername decides to leave Johnny after he choses heroin over her. It was a truly heart-wrenching performance which certainly did the hit 2004 album justice.
Other stand out performances included that of Will Paxton, who’s character Will provided a stark contrast to Johnny and Tunny as he stayed behind to raise his child. Johnny’s crazy alter ego, St Jimmy, was played by Lenny Turner, who provided a confident enough performance to depict the insanity of a role which was in fact just a figment of Johnny’s imagination.
I did feel the show could have benefited from a short interval. With a running time of just under two hours the performance was reasonably short, but a chance to return to reality, stretch your legs and get a quick drink would nevertheless have been appreciated.
The final scene was a beautiful and intimate contrast to the rest of the show; an acoustic performance of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” played by the cast members themselves. And as the curtain closed, a standing ovation showed that the audience really did have the time of their lives.
Article By Louisa Bebb