Review: American Idiot, Hammersmith Apollo ✭✭✭✭✭

This isn’t just the best rock musical there has ever been, it’s the only rock musical there has ever been. Where others have betrayed their roots with the transition to stage; American Idiot’s roots are laid bare in the theatre, roots and guts. If the term ‘rock musical’ has always been something of an oxymoron, it isn’t now and even Rent pales by comparison dogged as it is by an inadequate book, it’s still a darn good musical but Rock ‘n’ Roll it ain’t.

All of the almost punk integrity of the album is retained here with a tricky to achieve unselfconsciousness; on stage band; techies strolling about in view; deceptively simple sonic grunge physical design and best of all an unforced narrative that has the audience filling in the gaps, like a great work of art where the painter has provided the setting and characters, and told as much of the story as he needs to without spoon feeding the viewer to oblivion. And the visuals here are stunning; that ‘simple’ set, from Designer Christine Jones, has a scaffold tower transform into a greyhound bus upon which our “Jesus of Suburbia” is transported out of this particular Loserville. This is imagination, this is how to use projection, this is how to use LCD screens, this is how to make flying magic, this is how to make concert stadia spectacle theatrical.

This isn’t just the best rock musical there has ever been, it’s the only rock musical there has ever been.

Where Hair hides the inconvenient truth of a tribe able to bum around being hippies on Mom and Dad’s money, American Idiot celebrates it: “I held up my local convenience store to get a bus ticket,” says Johnny (a shining example of how to swerve to avoid cliché from Alex Nee).

“Actually I stole the money from my Mom’s dresser.”


“Actually she lent me the cash. Bitch.”

As anyone involved in the audition process for Spring Awakening will testify, Director Michael Mayer is nothing if not exhaustive in his search for the best and freshest talent to people his plays and here he does it again. With the recent transfers from Broadway of West Side Story and Hair the most repeated phrase amongst theatre cognoscenti was “See it with the Americans”. As for American Idiot my advice is, see it with the Americans. Maybe it’s about authenticity but this cast is breathtakingly definitive.

Steven Hoggett seals his reputation as the greatest living choreographer with steps and movement so organic, meaningful and beautiful, they spellbind. Genuflecting desert-fatigued soldiers in Fallujah or Helmand or somewhere mirror humping lovers at home and all to the sound track of another haunting Green Day ballad. After shooting up, the drug taking paraphernalia – in a trip pas de deux – exaggerates and extends so that a surgical tubing ligature becomes a physical and metaphorical binding in a sequence worthy of Martha Graham.

The sound and lighting design can’t be bettered.

“Am I retarded or am I just overjoyed?” Both, aren’t we all? This show is a masterpiece.

5 stars *****
Runs until 16th December 2012.
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