Green Day's American Idiot

author PP date 18/10/17

"American Idiot" was released in 2004 and was immediately a controversial album amongst Green Day fans. Although hints of what's to come could be heard to an extent on 2000's "Warning" already, it was a radical departure in sound and style for the pop punkers that brought in dramatic, theatrical elements and grandiose production, as well as radio ballads amidst punk rock pieces that eventually exploded the band to superstardom much beyond the "Basket Case"-era on MTV throughout the 90s.

'A punk rock opera', they dubbed it back in the day, given its conceptual theme that loosely tells the story of a character called Jesus Of Suburbia, an anti-hero teenager symbolizing the disillusionment of American youth during the Bush years. It's a polished album with unconventionally long and ambitious songs for Green Day that, at the time, felt like the band was selling out at least for those of us hoping for the band to record more "Nimrod" or "Insomniac" style music.

"American Idiot": The Musical

In interviews during and since its release, Billie Joe Armstrong had consistently suggested that the record was ripe, or even intended as a musical rather than a standard long-play, and that dream (or plan) came into fruition in 2009, where a musical adaptation of the story premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, CA. Since then, the musical has been through Broadway, Hollywood, West End, and numerous international cities throughout the years. Most recently, it was performed in our neighboring Malmö, Sweden internationally, and it is currently airing not just here in Copenhagen, Denmark at Den Grå Hal, Christiania as the first musical ever in the venue, but also in Buenos Aires, Rio De Janeiro, and is expected to arrive in Sao Paulo next year. In each case, the cast is typically local to the region, and in Denmark's case, features a collection of rising stars from all around the Nordics.

We decided it was worth checking out the experience despite the rather steep ticket pricing from 250 DKK to 445 DKK, so PP attended a showing on October 18th with the intention to write an exposé of sorts on the spectacle.

Setup

Den Grå Hal has never featured a musical before, so first of all, it was a question mark how the seating would be arranged. The bar was in its usual place in the back, but other than that you wouldn't have recognized the venue as the same place where bands like NOFX played in recent memory. In pictures on the official ticketing website it wasn't clear at all what the difference in view was between the so-called cheap seats and the premium priced ones, so if you're reading this, know that even the furthest away placed seats on the map provide an excellent view of the scene, because they have built a multi-storey tribune and there just aren't that many rows to the front from the last row. We had seats on row 11, which had a fantastic view, but going back to row 20+ for cheaper tickets would be what I'd do if I went again.

The stage looks extremely simplistic when you first see it: flat and few props. However, it's also built like a wireframe of a house. If you've ever seen a musical before, you'll recognize windows and slots for live musicians to at the back of the stage where they can focus on playing the actual songs without being necessarily in the spotlight, but visible enough for the audience to appreciate.

The Stage Moves... a lot!

But once the show kicks off, little did you know about how many moving parts and scenes could be created out of the three cement-painted plastic blocks lying on the stage. They move in all directions up and down, creating a wide variety of ambiances and moods together with clever use of elevated staircases, colorful light effects, moving mats, and much more. It's actually very impressive how much technology the musical comes with despite its modest foundations when you see the stage for the first time. Everything from shopping carts to sofas, beds and much more was rapidly moved in/out of the scene in a smooth fashion as one song progressed to the next, creating an illusion of a flowing and ebbing storyline and highlighting the different aspects of Jesus Of Suburbia's character traits nicely.

While the eight musicians were mostly parked to the background away from the spotlights, they showcased an admirable amount of passion rocking out to especially the faster Green Day songs like "St. Jimmy" and "Know Your Enemy", among others. Volume-wise, they produced a good amount of noise to drown out any chatter in the crowd, but at a suitable level to enjoy without having to resort to earplugs like you have to at most rock concerts to get the best sound.

The Performance: Good, not great

Performance-wise, the fourteen young up and coming performance artists varied considerably in their talent. The lead roles were naturally fantastic in both their elaborate and dramatic portrayals of the characters as well as their impressive vocal range, but especially the smaller roles could've benefited from a little more fine-tuning in their (less frequent) solo parts.

In terms of acting and synchronous dance moves for passages featuring more than just a couple of characters, the group did a great job together. Plenty of movement and theatrical portrayals of the story ensured that you always had something to fixate your eyes on and to help you follow along with the story even if you've never paid particular attention to the album's overall story. Highlights included the dramatic departure of Johnny / Jesus of Suburbia from his hometown to the big city, his drug-addiction, the passionate but ultimately doomed relationship with Whatsername, the rebellious girl he meets in the big city on his journey, and the fantastic alter-ego role of St. Jimmy who turns out to be Johnny himself. One of the most memorable moments of the performance was the moving walkways during "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" where the "I walk alone, I walk alone, I walk alone and I walk alone" parts are beautifully portrayed on stage.

The musical features all of "American Idiot" as well as select cuts from "21st Century Breakdown" played and acted through in a single 90-minute session. Let's just put it this way: the weaknesses of both albums on record were also present in the musical. The middle section songs just weren't that interesting, even if they served a purpose in the storyline itself. But if anything, seeing them in this format gives great context to why especially "American Idiot" sounds the way it does. This is ultimately exactly the format it was intended for rather than as a rock/punk rock album, per se. And for theater or a musical, it works surprisingly well.

The Verdict

Once "Whatsername" finishes the rock opera, the giant plastic blocks turn upside down once more to form a wall, and a large "American Idiot" hand grenade logo is cast on its face for a final encore. All actors and musicians return on stage for one final solo segment each during "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" before several rounds of applauds, curtsies and bows to close things off.

So how was it all in the end?

Well, at a price of 445 DKK a piece, the 90-minute performance felt overpriced. Sure, there's a lot of staff involved: 14 actors, 8 musicians, and all the technicians, directors and so forth, but perhaps a 250 DKK price for the best seats would have been more appropriate. I mean the tech involved was impressive and there were some great songs, but overall it wasn't that spectacular. I guess it comes down to how much you like "American Idiot". For the punk rock fans of Green Day's older material there isn't much song-wise here to draw major interest musically, but for a mainstream audience, the songs fit well. The story itself is interesting and full of metaphor and symbolism to how American's youth's struggle is perceived even today, but leaves much to the imagination and certainly is geared more towards the artsy, bohemian types rather than those looking forward to the next big screen action movie fix.

Overall, a decent experience worthy of a solid rating. Check out the commercial below to get an idea of what to expect. [7½]

Songs performed:

  • 1. American Idiot
  • 2. Jesus of Suburbia
  • 3. City of the Damned
  • 4. I Don't Care
  • 5. Dearly Beloved
  • 6. Tales of Another Broken Home
  • 7. Holiday
  • 8. Boulevard of Broken Dreams
  • 9. Favorite Son
  • 10. Are We the Waiting
  • 11. St. Jimmy
  • 12. Give Me Novacaine
  • 13. Last of the American Girls/She's a Rebel
  • 14. Last Night on Earth
  • 15. Too Much Too Soon
  • 16. Before the Lobotomy
  • 17. Extraordinary Girl
  • 18. When It's Time
  • 19. Know Your Enemy
  • 20. 21 Guns
  • 21. Letterbomb
  • 22. Wake Me Up When September Ends
  • 23. Homecoming
  • 24. The Death of St. Jimmy
  • 25. East 12th St.
  • 26. Nobody Likes You
  • 27. Rock and Roll Girlfriend
  • 28. We're Coming Home Again
  • 29. Whatsername
  • 30. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)

All photos are press photos courtesy of the musical

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