Pop punk rockers Green Day were the last band anyone expected to come up with an epic rock opera, but with 2004’s American Idiot, this is exactly what they did. That album saw their music move a lot closer to bands like The Who than their early pseudo punk hits, with two 9 minutes suites recalling the hey day of concept albums. While it didn’t seem like it at the time, that album was just begging to be turned into a musical, and that’s exactly what happened in 2009 when it debuted on Broadway, and by 2011 it became a touring show.
The show is (almost) entirely sung through with just minimal narration between songs. For the Montreal performances, french subtitles were available on side screens for audience members not fluent in english, but the few times I peeked at them, they seemed to have been translated through Google Translate, with a lot of words translated out of context. The cast was young and energetic (even athletic at times), and while they were all decent singers, it wasn’t always all on pitch but not to the point that it marred the performance.
The plot is at times clumsily pushed along, but it follows the path of three friends, disillusioned with their lives, who decide to leave for the city. One stays behind because his girlfriend got pregnant, the other quickly joins the army, and the other falls into an abyss of sex, drugs and a little bit of rock ‘n roll. The play suffers from the same shortcoming of the album: it is very front loaded with the best material opening the show. To remedy that (and stretch the show to 94 minutes), they wisely added songs from the follow up album 21st Century Breakdown. B-Side tracks from various American Idiot singles are also included to pad out the story/running time.
Green Day’s music lends itself surprisingly well to the ensemble singing, and made for energetic numbers. This show is full of energy and despite the grim storyline, maintained a high spirit that is faithful to the original material. (Wouldn’t life be better if, when you’re down and out, everyone around you broke into a heavily choreographed song and dance routine?) The show is really aimed at adults, with sexual situations and drug use being featured, so I don’t think it’s an appropriate show for younger kids who might like the band.
After the curtain call, acoustic guitars were brought in for the entire cast who broke into a rousing rendition of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) that provided a great send off. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, everyone loved the show!
Check out the musical’s official site.