American Idiot

Malvern Theatres


It's a decade on from the opening of this Tony Award-winning rock musical so I wondered if American Idiot would still feel as relevant?

Returning for its third UK tour to mark the tenth anniversary of the show, Malvern Theatres welcomed  the show early on after its launch in January.

Based on the music of indie rock band Green Day, it was first performed in California in 2009 when a more critical view about the aftermath of 9/11 and the war to find weapons of mass destruction had emerged.

It opens with a TV screen showing images from the September 11 terror attacks and response by President Bush to set the scene for the three main characters - a trio of disaffected young men in small town America.

Feeling at odds with their country and loss of all motivation, we follow these three friends Johnny, Will and Tunny on separate journeys over a year.

One stays home to become a father, another joins the Army while the main focus - Johnny - falls into a spiral of self-harm and drug addiction in a big city.

As you can tell, this isn't a hearts and flowers musical. It's gritty, real and cynical. There's a dance sequence based around women peeing on pregnancy tests, while all-American cheerleaders carry bombs instead of pom-poms. Although the constant flicking the bird by all the cast does get a tiresome

Waterloo Road's Tom Milner plays Johnny with plenty of suitable attitude and charm. His drug addiction scenes are purposefully drawn out to make them excruciating to watch and more hard-hitting.

Despite the grit and promise, there's always a feeling that a flimsy plot has been written to fit in with the music and it's a storyline that doesn't really go very far, even though it was co-written by Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong.

Opening with track American Idiot, the songs come thick and fast. With a penchant for Green Day, that was more than fine by me.


The music is performed by a live band along with cast members playing guitars and a scattering of acoustic versions.

As a more contemporary juke box musical, it's the songs that take precedence especially with hits including Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 21 Guns and Wake Me Up When September Ends. Then there are the rest of the album tracks from Green Day's 2004 album American Idiot plus additional songs from the band's 2009 concept album 21st Century Breakdown. There's even a song, When It's Time, which was created just for the musical.

The music ultimately lifts the show and is given a good airing by a cast buzzing with contestants from TV talent shows.

While the 2013's X Factor third place runner-up Luke Friend plays St Jimmy, the 2016 X Factor finalist Sam Lavery impresses as love interest Whatsername, but I can't help but wonder what such an alternative punk band like Green Day would think of TV reality stars in their show.

American Idiot won two Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design of a Musical (for Christine Jones) and Best Lighting Design of a Musical (for Kevin Adams), and the ambience feels part-show, part-gig thanks to the smoky, moody, atmospheric scenery and lights.

When this musical emerged a decade ago, it would have felt much more alternative and cynical, standing up to all-American norms. That cynicism has become much more routine since then and although this show isn't so extraordinary, the music still is. If you like Green Day, then there's no doubt it will be a crowd-pleaser just on the soundtrack alone. It runs at Malvern to 16-02-19 and will be back in the midlands at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre from 9-13 April.

Alison Brinkworth


Note: Contains strong language and drug references - not suitable for under 14s

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