REVIEW: AMERICAN IDIOT (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★★
American Idiot premiered in 2009 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre before moving to Broadway’s St James Theatre in 2010. Since then, the sung-through rock musical based on Green Day’s 2004 concept album of the same name has seen great success winning two Tony Awards and a Grammy Award for the Original Broadway Cast Album. On this side of the pond, American Idiot has also seen similar success when it premiered with a UK and Ireland tour in 2012. Sell A Door’s production of the show debuted in 2015 at the Arts Theatre in the West End before embarking on a UK tour. So celebrated was this production that it returned to the Arts Theatre for a further West End run in 2016. Returning for the 10th Anniversary of the musical and the 15th Anniversary of Green Day’s original concept album, Sell A Door’s production returns once more in 2019 for a UK Tour. London audiences once again can join the dissatisfied youth of American Idiot and subscribe to #idiotnation as the musical stops at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
American Idiot centres around disaffected youth. Angry and disappointed by the post 9/11 America they live in, three friends Johnny, Will and Tunny attempt to leave their suburban town and parental restrictions in search of freedom of expression, love and life. Just as they are about to leave Will’s girlfriend Heather falls pregnant. Leaving Will to stay home to work out his relationship and look after the baby, Johnny and Tunny follow their original pan and head to the big city. Tunny quickly finds the big city isn’t for him and looks for purpose in the military, being shipped off to war soon after. Now alone, Johnny turns to drugs and discovers a side of himself he’d rather not have met.
This Anniversary tour cast features Tom Milner (Waterloo Road, The Voice and The Barricade Boys) as Johnny, Samuel Pope (All or Nothing- The Mod Musical) as Will, Joshua Dowen (Footloose) as Tunny, Siobhan O’Driscoll as Heather, Luke Friend (X Factor) as St. Jimmy and introducing Sam Lavery (X Factor) as Whatsername. As Johnny, Tom Milner looked every bit the disaffected youth and played up his dialogue and acting to sometimes comic effect. That would have been fitting in lighter, more pantomime-eque productions however in American Idiot I found him a little insincere. A disconnect seemed to occur during the second act as very drugged up Johnny serenades a sleeping Whatshername. Earlier in the scene, Johnny is unable to stand due to how messed up he is however sits and beautifully plays guitar and then is all drugged up again falling over afterwards. A smoother transition or overall journey for this part of the show would have been more realistic and affecting depicting Johnny at the heights of his addiction. Samuel Pope as Will was particularly striking as the tortured boy who became a father before his time. As a result, his big number Novocaine is hauntingly beautiful and a real showstopper halfway through Act One. Joshua Dowen also does well as frustrated Tunny. Having made it to the big city, Tunny focuses his anger and pain and joins the army before being shipped off to Iraq. Finding himself in the aftermath of war, Dowen acts and sings up a storm in Before the Lobotomy in which he sings a quartet with himself. Siobhan O’Driscoll’s Heather had the sweetest voice of the female cast and her Dearly Beloved during the opening Jesus of Suburbia was a beautifully devastating contrast to the high energy rock that begins the show. As Whatshername, Sam Lavery gave a dark sultry performance although again, I felt a little disconnected from her portrayal. During the second act, Johnny dangerously pulls a gun on himself and Whatshername is understandably dismayed hyperventilating. Her breathing however quickly dissipates as she launches into a note perfect 21 Guns. A beautiful song, slightly glossed over by the confusing beginning. Luke Friend really found his stride as St. Jimmy. Alluring and at the same time utterly repellent, Friend’s St. Jimmy was a well-rounded and consistently acted portrayal of Johnny’s alter-ego. Giving his all in each scene, Friend gave a vocally and physically commanding performance and was a joy to watch throughout.
American Idiot is truly an ensemble show, with the vast majority of the cast appearing in every number. Playing a sleuth of characters from soldiers, drug addicts, mindless faces in the void, a drunk bus driver, to wall street office workers each ensemble member is featured heavily having their moment to shine and really compliments the story. Special mention must be given to the hard-working ensemble bringing the world of American Idiot to life through tight knit harmonies and effective choreography by Racky Plews.
Sell A Door’s production of American Idiot is extremely striking, working on so many levels and remains everything you could want from a modern sung-through rock musical. Loud and in your face, American Idiot appeals to a wide audience and deserves it’s continued success throughout the remainder of this 10th Anniversary UK Tour.
Reviewed by Stuart James
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