It has been more than 15 years since Green Day released their decade-defining concept album, American Idiot. The album hit number two on the New Zealand charts shortly after my 16th birthday and I had it on repeat for years to come.
With 9/11 still fresh in our memories, the Iraq War dominating headlines and a growing neopunk subculture at our high school, American Idiot was THE album to own. I never fully embraced all of punk's sensibilities and the obsession with not "selling out" at our decile 9 Orewa College seemed rather senseless - especially while living in Helen Clark's New Zealand and wearing a school uniform.
That aside, the album's anti-war lyrics struck a chord with me, and lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong was our Greta Thunberg for the George Bush era. American Idiot won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album and recently celebrated 10 years as a musical. This deliciously vulgar rock opera perfectly translates to the stage and is now playing at The Civic in Auckland.
The musical tells the story of three suburban friends Johnny (Tom Milner), Tunny (Joshua Dowen) and Will (Samuel Pope) who leave their small town and take different paths after the events of 9/11. The musical covers drug addiction, war and teen pregnancy to the infectious soundtrack of Green Day's biggest hits. The ensemble cast are fantastic and effortlessly dance their way around a well-thought-out stage design. The live band are just as much part of the show and clearly visible at the top of the stage.
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It is difficult to feel overly invested in the characters as not much time is spent on dialogue between the musical numbers. Whatsername (Sam Lavery) gives the best vocal performance but deserved more lines outside these songs.
The show is fast and frantic but Milner successfully brings meaning to an otherwise anarchic production. The second act brings cohesion to the overlapping storylines and the epic ensemble performance of "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a highlight. Luke Friend plays the bombastic drug dealer St. Jimmy who steals every scene he is in.
Many of the comedic lines fell flat with our audience, which may have to do with the outlandish dry-humping and finger-pulling. It fits with the rebellious nature of the show but it often felt unjustified. A little breathing room is needed to properly reflect on the heavy themes covered. These issues are quickly forgotten as this exhilarating coming-of-age show quickly dashes to its finish. American Idiot closes with the tune Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which had everyone in the audience singing along to the 1997 classic.
"Don't wanna be an American idiot, don't want a nation under the new media. Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mindf*** America."
Now, 15 years later, these lyrics feel more relevant than ever. My old college friends could make a solid argument that I'm more "sold out" than ever but nonetheless, American Idiot still kicks ass.
• American Idiot is on at Auckland's Civic Theatre until October 20.