I am going to open this post, by first off declaring that I have only seen half of this show. I went along last night to the Manchester Palace Theatre to catch the opening night here, and thought it so poor, that it became only the second show that I have ever left mid-way through on.
I would hasten to add that I am a big supporter of the ‘Arts’, and that I had paid in full for my ticket, and so nobody has lost out here. I am not even penning this as a review, as that would obviously be unfair. This post largely serves to put across my problems with the show and to explain my reasoning for not staying the full show. I appreciate others may strongly disagree with my thoughts, as this show has been well received by many others in the industry etc.
First off, the main problem with this show is that it is a jukebox musical, that truly sticks to the jukebox element. Historically, I have always championed the jukebox musical ‘genre’ in the face of widespread professional criticism. With American Idiot, the problem that I have is that there is no narration between the songs, connecting them. Sung-through musicals are one of my favourite genres of musical, however, with a show like American Idiot, a little narration between the songs is essential, as otherwise, it is just a collection of songs shoe-horned together. This lack of narration, coupled with a shouty delivery style of the often metaphoric and theatrically unusual song lyrics, makes the whole thing confusing and difficult to follow.
The next thing that I really disliked was the lighting for this show. It seemed that the mantra here was ‘if in doubt, use a strobe light’. I didn’t feel that it was effective, nor that it contributed anything to the staging – as to how the Broadway run won a Tony Award for Lighting Design, I will never know!
I saw absolutely no character development in the first Act. Sure, things happened to the characters, but I felt absolutely no apathy towards them, their environment, or to their ultimate fates. In fact, I went home, had a quick look at the plot online, and didn’t really feel surprised at the ending. There were scenes, for example, of a descent in to drug abuse, however with the shouty anthemic emo-rock soundtrack accompanying it, it was very much trivialized, and not particularly hard-hitting.
On Broadway, the show was 95 minutes, without interval. Had the UK tour kept this structure, I would, of course have stayed the duration, there being no opportunity to have snuck away. I can only assume that the interval was added to make the show more attractive to the Houses that this tour was booked in to, for merchandising and drinks etc. An interval is wrong for this production, I feel.
Last night was also the press night, and the theatre card holders night, and being sat in the Dress Circle, it appeared to me that, despite this, the theatre was only around half-full, and so atmosphere was really lacking. The only other time when I’ve been in an emptier theatre was when I saw Jerry Springer The Opera at the Opera House, and they bumped everyone down in to the front row of the stalls, determined not to reward their critics by cancelling a single show. Whilst American Idiot was nowhere near this deserted, from where I was sat, in the top price seating, it was clear that many people around me really weren’t feeling it.
How this show has been dubbed by the theatre community as the RENT of our generation I will never know. As a massive RENThead myself, I find the comparison, at best, lazy, and at the other end of the scale, absolutely ridiculous and without merit.
I do like the songs themselves, and do enjoy Green Day as artists (along with many similar in that genre), in addition to the Original Broadway Cast, and it was my enjoyment of the OBC that prompted me to book for the tour. The second track (the Jesus of Suburbia Medley) is my favourite, incidentally.
It was great to see this show with Max, who went along more as it was Green Day related than musical theatre (my main motivation). He too was equally as disappointed and was more than happy to leave too. I’m sure that many of the people who were in the theatre will have enjoyed the production, but I question the motivation of many who were there – I suspect the hard-core Green Day fans would enjoy this a lot more than fans of musical theatre.
Of course, all and full credit to the actors and band involved in this production (especially the cellist!), I would very much hasten to add that this is not a comment on their performance etc - my issues here are with the bare bones of the show itself.
For a show that seems to mourn a travesty of missed and lost potential, I can say that I did come away having felt those feelings, but towards the production itself and not towards the characters, as intended.
All in all, I was sad to have to leave the show at the interval, and I wish that instead of being 95 minutes, that they had padded it out to around the two-hour mark with a bit of dialogue and more of a story to it.