Review: American Idiot, Arts Theatre

Published in Time Out on July 23, 2015

The Broadway musical of Green Day’s 2004 concept album ‘American Idiot’ has finally arrived in the West End, in a low-key production starring X-Factor reject Amelia Lily. Those words will be enough to sell or put you off the show, but even as someone who spent her formative years in earnest singalongs of ‘Good Riddance’, there’s no nostalgia powerful enough to get me on board.

Ninety minutes of Green Day’s pop-punk songs – plus occasional, weirdly spare pockets of speech – sketch the story of three small-town friends who are frustrated in post-9/11 America and go in search of meaning. What they find instead are clichés. Does the one whose girlfriend gets pregnant turn into a stoner dad, only to be left by her? Yes he does. Does the one who moves to the big city end up a junkie? But of course. Does the one who joins the army get his leg blown off? Yes sirree!

Their friendship is ill-defined, meaning we don’t care about it, and there’s no real sense of what they’re all angstily railing against. There’s a love interest too, obviously, played by Lily; she’s got vocal chops but is a charisma-free stage presence.

This jukebox musical does have pace and punch however. A grubby, gurning chorus of teen slackers in tartan and Converse may not have the most precise dance-moves, but they do have buckets of snotty, cartoonish energy. Tim Deiling’s canny bullet-hole lighting ensures that Sara Perks’s split-level, graffitied street design is hectically lit, and the live, loud music proves how often Green Day deliver a tuneful hook and an emotional slug.

Aaron Sidwell makes for a high-spirited, hyperactively watchable anti-hero Johnny; Lucas Rush as St Jimmy also stands out, with tongue-protrusion skills to rival Miley Cyrus… shame the show’s as vacuous as her bubblegum pop: ‘idiotic’ would be harsh, but it is pretty vacant.

Where next?