Project Description

AMERICAN IDIOT: THE MUSICAL

Sydney Opera House

12 January 2018 (Live Review)

Reviewer – Benjamin Smith

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Turning a punk record into a fully choreographed musical is an inherently anti-punk thing to do. Except that by doing so, thwarting expectations and breaking the rules, it becomes something completely punk. Therein lies the paradox. Maybe.

This particular musical focusses upon the lives of three young men desperate to escape the claustrophobia of their dead-end neighbourhood and make it in the big city. The evening before they go one discovers he is about to become a father and decides to stay. Within a month of leaving another is so disillusioned by the broken promise of his new surrounds he seeks further refuge in the strictures of the military. Not long after that, the third finds himself beset by addiction and loneliness.

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The story is set against the backdrop of the dystopia that is Trump’s America.  The album American Idiot, which provides the skeleton of the show was a huge step sideways for Green Day, a band whose songs until that point had primarily centred around smoking pot and masturbation. It was intended as a comment on the nightmare that was the George W. Bush presidency and the post 9/11 era. Looking back on that time now in the context of these songs reminds us how fiendishly naive we were to think that was as bad as things could get. To be nostalgic for something so wretched is a jagged pill to swallow.

The story also reminds us though that there are universal truths, immune to politics and progress, felt almost identically by the young of every new generation. The sense of wanting to be something else, somewhere else, anything other, anyone better; the need for a meaning that doesn’t exist, the dismay that comes with finding that out and the realisation that if there is meaning at all it is found inside a home and a family. Its a neatly packaged piece of storytelling that weaves its way through the music cleverly but without a great deal of subtlety.

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The sets are sparse with the use of projection to help move some of the story along. It is the performances that are the key to the production’s success. The lead and supporting roles are filled by committed and talented young hopefuls. The addition of Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson is crowd-pleasing and his role as the predatory and parasitic drug dealer Saint Jimmy is inspired casting given his public troubles with the Saint Jimmies of the world.

Overall this is a show for fans of the band, a piece where everything else is subservient to the pop-punk tunes that are probably, for many, the band’s definitive statement. For everyone else it’s probably just a bit of fun with a safely punk aesthetic.

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AMNPLIFY AA