American Idiot was a celebration where theatre and rock became a perfect fusion of music and talent... with a story that is as fresh and relevant as the day the original album was released by American pop-punk band Green Day.
I remember hearing American Idiot, the single, when driving to work way back in 2004. It captured a moment in time for me, as many great songs do. I had been a fan of Green Day for some time but I knew from the first chords this was something special. As it turned out the whole album was a stunner, a concept album that told a story of friendship, loss, despair, relationships and circumstances that many could relate to at a time of discontent and confusion.
The timing of the original release of the musical on Broadway in 2009 was apt, coming in the shadow of the global credit crisis. Winning rave reviews and a Grammy for best musical show album, it was with some excitement ten years later that I attended the opening night of the show at The Civic in Auckland, where it was brought to life for the first time in New Zealand.
Without spoiling the whole show the story begins with three mates Johnny (Tom Milner), Will (Samuel Pope) and Tunny (Joseph Dowen) who, seeking fame and fortune, decide to get out of their small town and roll the dice of life. However, as best laid plans often go, life’s circumstances get in the way with each of them taking totally different, unexpected journeys that are captured throughout the show.
It kicks off with a large TV spotlighting the September 11 attack that changed the world forever, along with the disharmony and chaos that followed. This set the scene perfectly for the first song of the night: American Idiot. It was a great way to launch proceedings and the sound and lighting really helped with the overall impact.
The band, who supported the cast and played all the songs of the night, were perched on the left-hand side of the set on a mezzanine floor, from where they raged over the audience, adding perfectly to the angst and frustration of the young fellas looking for a way out. They were joined by the whole cast as the song gathered tempo, whipping up into a fervour of energy and movement befitting an adolescent gang full of pent-up emotion and restless feet. Not much was left to the imagination.
As the last chords faded from American Idiot, the cast jumped straight into Jesus of Suburbia, which details the trials and tribulations that took place for each of the three key characters. Will found out his girlfriend was pregnant, Tunny went to become a patriot and joined the army, while Johnny was left alone to seek fame and fortune in the big city.
The song works perfectly given there are at least three separate sections rolled into the fast-paced ditty. Again, everything was unleashed at an incredible pace with much of the punk and attitude captured perfectly during this key scene.
The stage setting was excellent and the change of props during the show was seamless and flowed incredibly well. The costumes and lighting were of a very high standard as well. This was easily one of the most professional shows I have seen for some time and hearing one of my favourite albums being brought to life only made the experience better.
The show unashamedly lets the music do the talking and is all the better for it. There was little dialogue for most of the evening, letting the words of the songs and the actions of the cast tell the story.
Most of the songs came off American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, and they were thrown out at pace. The first act blasted through 18 songs in all, giving an insight on the trials and tribulations of the main characters. I loved hearing other classics that were pumped out with all the spit and venom that came off the original album. These included Boulevard of Broken Dreams/Holiday and Are We The Waiting/St Jimmy the latter my highlight of the first act, which introduces St Jimmy (Luke Friend) Johnny’s alter ego.
Johnny’s introduction to heroin, much like the whole show, was acted out to perfection, and led to the closing track of the first act Last Night on Earth, off 21st Century Breakdown.
In the break, there was a real buzz of excitement as most punters took a breath, gathered themselves and tried to capture what had just unfolded. I took the liberty to chat to a few happy souls and their smiles said it all, the real question I think many had: was the second act going to be able to live up to the first?
The simple answer was yes. I was worried that they had played most of their bangers and wondered how they could keep up the pace. I needn’t have.
It was packed with just about the same number of songs and there were some simply wonderful emotive tracks like 21 Guns, Wake Me Up When September Ends and Whatsername that brought the show to a close.
But it wasn’t quite the end, with a standing ovation demanding one more song and they duly delivered. This was the one I had been waiting for all night.
I saw Green Day with my son James back on the 18th of December 2009. It was the end of the decade and the last concert of the band's tour celebrating the same two key albums from the musical. And just as they did back then, they closed with Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Sung at the concert back in 2009 solo by Billie Joe Armstrong, it was a moment I will never forget.
And so it was date-stamped again in my memory at this show, starting off with just Jimmy singing the famous words and strumming those familiar chords. The full cast then flowed onto the stage, flooding the theatre with a wave of emotion and celebration and encouraging the audience to sing along to the famous chorus, which we all did.
We were left at the end with the question that I have taken the liberty to answer: “It’s something unpredictable but in the end it is right, I hope you had the time of your life?”.
We most certainly did.