Last night I went to see the American Idiot musical at the Arts Theatre. I was very excited to watch this musical because Green Day is my favourite band ever.
When I tell people Green Day is my favourite band, I get a few surprised looks here and there, I don’t understand why. I guess I don’t look like I would listen to that kind of music, I don’t know (incidentally, I also used to listen to Bad Religion and other similar bands!).
As I’ve written before, I like all kinds of music, I don’t have a favourite genre anymore, and it’s more a matter of favourite songs and bands. Taste changes and bands come and go, but Green Day has always been my favourite since the first time I heard Basket Case, many years ago.
I remember I bought (yes, bought) the cassette tape for Dookie and I spent hours studying the artwork and learning the lyrics. For those of you too young to know what a cassette tape is, check here. Later on, I also bought the CD version (yes, I bought this album twice!). I’m assuming everyone here still knows what a CD is, right? I also own Insomniac, Nimrod, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Their last albums I only have them on Spotify now, since I don’t use any other methods of listening to music nowadays.
Before I go into writing about the musical, here are my favourite Green Day songs by album (I’m not going to link to the songs, because there are a lot, but they’re easy to find on Spotify or whatever you kids use to listen to music these days):
Welcome to Paradise
When I come around
In The End
Hitchin’ A Ride
Jesus of Suburbia, and in particular, Dearly Beloved
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Give Me Novocaine
Wake Me Up When September Ends
21st Century Breakdown
Before The Lobotomy
Last Night On Earth
¿Viva la Gloria? [Little Girl]
Restless Heart Syndrome
See The Light
Right, as you can see, there are a lot of songs that I love, all for different reasons. Some I like because of the rhythm, others because of the lyrics.
So, the musical… Do I need to say it? OK, I’ll say it: if you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.
When my friend and I entered and took our seats, the first thing that caught our attention was how small the venue was. That was alright, but I didn’t expect it to be so small.
I noticed a guy sitting on the stage steps with a remote in his hand. A TV screen was playing random images and recordings.
At some point (late), the musical started. The guy stood up and sat on an armchair in the centre of the stage, and started flicking the channels. There were clips from news around 9/11, and George Bush’s famous speech You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists, which makes the guy start screaming (something I didn’t expect, by the way) and off we went.
For an actual summary of the play, along the songs, you can check the Wikipedia page (I just realised I link to Wikipedia way too much, I need to broaden my sources). I believe this is based on the American version, but the story is the same, with a few name changes (not sure why that is).
The whole thing feels like an artsy, independent play. There are some monologues, in which Theo walks us through the timeline, as if he was writing letters to his mum, or maybe a diary, I’m not sure. Different scenarios are cleverly done with different items, like the shelves for the 7-Eleven serving as the seats for the bus to the city.
The three story lines are completely different from each other, but interlinked and I found them extremely interesting. On one hand, we have the guy whose girlfriend gets pregnant and his life is brought to a halt, having to stay back home, while his friends are off to an adventure (in hindsight, he was really the luckiest one!). Then we have Theo becoming a drug addict (hello, St. Jimmy), and having a passionate, yet difficult relationship with Whatsername (more on her lately). Finally, there’s the third friend, who gets brainwashed into enlisting the army, and ends up losing a leg in combat.
The songs feel like covers of the actual songs, and some of them work really well (most of them) while others are a bit more meh (still liked them, though).
Theo’s character is great. The actor/singer plays him perfectly. Of course, I was a bit unsure because he doesn’t look like any of the characters we see in the music videos, but they work well enough. Theo is a skinny, shaved-with-a-mohawk, punk guy. We see him start with a purpose, get completely lost in love and drugs, and then recover, trying to fit into society only to finally realise he is who he is, and even if he’s not a drug-addict anymore, he’s definitely not an office worker and he just has to accept himself.
The plot of his friend going to war almost made me cry. When they make this sort of remix of Before The Lobotomy, pretty much as an effect of pain and morphine, once he’s back in the hospital, I was feeling it in my core. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I really get into the stories (hey, I cry with some TV ads, so go figure!). The actor was really good, and I found myself rooting for him to not die at war and to recover. I was happy when he found happiness with his Extraordinary Girl. Also, he is hot!
I didn’t really care about the story of the friend that stayed behind, only enough to see the irony when he’s singing Nobody likes you, everyone left you, they’re all out without you, having fun, while in reality, one of his friends is addicted to heroin and the other has lost his leg.
The women in this story are a bit on a background role. They’re mostly accessories to the men’s stories. I would have found it disappointing, except that I wasn’t expecting anything different, based on the background of the musical, the culture and the songs. I’m not saying Green Day are misogynist, I don’t know, maybe they are, maybe they’re not, but they wrote these songs from their point of view, being guys, and from the point of view of a guy and his story, so it made sense to me. The only woman that takes a bit more centre stage is Theo’s girlfriend, Whatsername, and I hated her.
The character is great. She’s a girl Theo falls in love with, and pretty much works as an anchor for him. Every time he falls deeper into his addiction, she seems to be there to pull him out. She isn’t impressed with his antics and has a bit of a temper, while being this sexy girl who does what she wants. A heroine that reminds me a bit of Ramona, in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The reason I hated her was because the character was played by Amelia Lily. I didn’t know her while watching the musical, although I kept thinking her face was familiar.
She wants to sing deep, which would be otherwise fine with me, because she has a really good low register (I don’t understand music and vocals enough to get these terms right, so please excuse me if I make a mess of it… basically, she sings in a low pitched voice, if that makes sense). For those Spanish readers, think Monica Naranjo (if I think of an English speaker equivalent, I’ll add their name!).
The problem with that is that because she puts so much effort in lowering her pitch, she ends up making a really weird face (pushing her jaw out whenever she sings), and it makes her whole body get stuck in her posture. I don’t know how to explain it, but when you saw the rest of the cast, their bodies were flowing when they were dancing or acting, and she came across as robotic. I would imagine Whatsername as erratic and moving fast. She kept bringing her hands up, as if to pull her hair in frustration or despair, but stopping halfway there, ending up like a dramatic statue. I don’t know, it was weird. I don’t think that was a good choice of cast. Whenever she walked, she looked like she was slouching, and she would walk around in a funny way. I didn’t find her coherent with the character, that’s it.
The other big star of the show was, of course, St. Jimmy, Theo’s drug-addict alter ego. He was brilliant. He starts in the shadows, the typical feeling that there’s something behind you but that is not there when you turn around. When he appears, the stage goes crazy, everything is chaotic because that’s what Jimmy brings, a lack of self-consciousness and responsibility, and a high egotistical and hedonistic life. Theo is tempted by Jimmy into trying stronger drugs, and at some point, Jimmy almost convinces Theo to kill Whatsername, and ends up almost committing suicide.
The actor playing Jimmy was really good. He reminded me of a fun, crazy (er) version of Zed, from Police Academy, maybe mixed a bit with Keith Flint from The Prodigy, imagine that. St. Jimmy ended up killing himself, meaning Theo had kicked his addiction.
At the end, they all get homesick and return home, all things forgotten and forgiven.
The whole cast comes out to the stage, all holding guitars and then play Good Riddance, which is my favourite song of the whole lot, and it ended up with a standing ovation and the audience singing along.
Speaking of the audience. I was shocked that they were standing up during the performance and going out to the toilets and back, making noise, making people sitting in their row having to get up to let them pass, and so on. What shocked me was that this was permitted. Sometimes, it was very distracting. I can’t imagine how distracting this must be for the performers (think old cinema or theatre seats, that creak every time you shift your posture). Sure, there was no intermission and it lasted just under two hours, but come on, we’re all adults. I found it disrespectful and a lack of care by the staff (even the staff were shuffling stuff around and making noise from time to time!).
Anyway, overall, I really liked it. I had read some not great reviews, so I didn’t know what to expect (I was expecting to be disappointed, to be honest), but I left feeling energised and with a smile on my face (and yes, a couple of tears in my eyes, stop judging me!).
On my way back home, I had no option but to get my Spotify Green Day playlist and listen to American Idiot again.
It was a great evening.
The title is a line from Letterbomb, one of Green Day’s songs.