I love musicals, but I grew up emo. This seems irreconcilable, until you consider the fact that American Idiot exists. Corresponding directly with the eponymous concept album that swept me through my adolescence, American Idiot unpacks the various themes explored by Green Day’s lyrics and extracts a narrative from them. When the Edinburgh Footlights got in touch with us for a review, I was immediately excited.
American Idiot (the album) is a sharp exploration of Americanism, consumerism, small-town desperation and patriotism in a neo-liberal society. It’s seriously articulate, for a band whose namesake is a day-long bong smoking session. I walked into the venue and was greeted by a sea of masks, depicting America’s current cultural pantheon— Kanye West, Donald Trump etc. I’m swiftly thrown into a narrative featuring war, drug abuse, hopeless rock n’ roll dreams and small-town entrapment. The band are incredibly tight, and they blaze through my teenaged anthems with ease. I’m giddy by this point—the rhythm guitarist is wearing black nail varnish. The costuming has me consistently gobsmacked. I don’t know how the Edinburgh Footlights time travelled back to noughties and raided my wardrobe, but the stage is bedecked with ripped denim, band tees and eyeliner. I saw a man skip in platform boots…majorly impressive stuff all around. American Idiot (the musical) is raunchy, gritty, and unkempt. For a (mostly) reformed emo, this is a godsend. It is also the source of my main criticisms.
I saw the penultimate show of the Footlight’s run, which will mitigate this critique somewhat, but it still stands. The vocal delivery of certain songs was lost to the “punk” aesthetic of the piece, affecting pitching and volume quite severely in some cases. The play’s principle trio suffered the brunt of this damage, with the supporting cast (particularly the female performers) remaining consistently strong. Some tech issues were also to blame for vocal dips, so I’ll let a few of them slide. Further difficulties were experienced by the band— you can’t beat a guitar to death for a full show and expect it to stay in tune. Another pass for that one. Choreography was a little off, in terms of timing, but this was more than made up for by the stellar dancing in Extraordinary Girl, I could have watched it for hours. 21 Guns was another standout, but this time the vocals were the source of my awe. I had chills, my emo little heart was fluttering; the harmonies were executed brilliantly. Less impressive were the acoustic numbers — poorly-executed barre chords from the principle cast lead to some unpleasant fret buzz and rogue notes, but barre chords are difficult, so I won’t crucify anyone for that. Maybe some warm-up exercises are in order though, your hands need to stretch quite a lot.
Speaking of stretching, I found the believability of certain performances to be an imaginative one. Characterisation was a little weak across the principle trio, which was made quite palpable in juxtaposition to the richly nuanced performance of “St Jimmy,” whose constant shaking and menacing glare had me checking for my nearest available exit. It’s hard to give life to characters in such a fast-paced musical though—the songs are practically back to back. With some polish, the Footlights have a stellar production under their belt. Their run of American Idiot has concluded, but I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.