There’s an undeniable 90s and 00s renaissance taking place at the moment. It may be that the xennials and millennials have grown up and are looking back at their teen years with the rosy glow that only 20 years of distance and nostalgia can bring… or it could be that we had absolutely cracking music!
To be honest, I think it’s a little bit of both. We’ve seen Alanis Morrisette introduced to a new audience through Jagged Little Pill The Musical, while 90s themed Cruel Intentions and Bring it On continue to bring in audiences. Most recently we have the Max Martin fuelled bop, & Juliet.
But for those who lived their teen years embracing flannel shirts and jeans over bubble gum pop princesses, there was Green Day. The Californian punk band formed in the late 80s with Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool as the core members, and along with bands like The Offspring, help popularise mainstream punk rock.
After success in the 90s, the band’s momentum began to slow until the release of American Idiot in 2003. The album was marketed as a “punk rock opera” that follows the journey of the fictitious character the “Jesus of suburbia”. The album and it’s first single of the same title hit a nerve in the cultural zeitgeist, depicting American life through a different lens. It was also coincidentally timed two months before George W. Bush was re-elected.
While the album swept the Grammy’s in 2005, it was in 2010 that Billie Joe Armstrong along with Spring Awakening Director Michael Mayer brought the expanded story of the Jesus of suburbia to the stage.
Independent musical theatre company Theatrical have brought the Tony Award winning production to Melbourne’s Chapel off Chapel in a wild display of heightened emotion and retro nostalgia.
The story is set post 9/11 in small town American. Three young men are attempting to navigate the world in a sort of coming-of-age narrative that doesn’t hit as hard for modern Australian audiences due to our distance (both the era and geographically), and all of its political turmoil.
The opening number has the entire cast rushing the stage for the title song. There are lots of ripped jeans, flannelette and fishnets, and a whole lot more energy. The stage however is too small for a cast this large, and they seemed crammed on there.
The leading cast of Johnny (Mat Dwyer), Tunny (John Mondelo) and Will (Ronald MacKinnon) are our initial focus as they make plans to get out their small town for a better life. Things quickly go awry for the trio when Will is forced to stay and Tunny makes a rash decision leaving Johnny to his own self destructive devices.
They all have lovely voices, but it was Mondelo that shone, his stage presence and vocals were glorious.
The cast are playing young, which is lucky because they do seem very young. While they are ‘green’ performers (many making their debut) they give it their absolute all and the female characters have incredibly strong voices.
There wasn’t a lot of room on stage for choreography, so it’s somewhat limited in what is achievable in this production, however MacKinnon gets a contemporary moment that shows off his skill and training.
Will Huang commanded the stage in his opening number as the over-the-top drug dealer St Jimmy, but didn’t take the character any further, it would have been interesting to see St Jimmy develop (or unravel) as the show went on. The cast did a lot of “showing us the emotion” and the performances could have done with more light and shade throughout. While it was a heightened construct, with the narrative being almost completely sung through, there were moments that could have been explored for nuance.
Theatrical is an independent theatre company with a mission to make musical accessible for everyone, they work with volunteers in the community to keep down costs and pass these savings onto the audience member. They have an inclusive casting policy and can act as a steppingstone for cast and crew looking to work in professional musical theatre.
While there were moments that could have been expanded on, Theatrical is one of very few independent theatre companies offering up-and-coming talent these kinds of opportunities.
The story of American Idiot is a little dated and had some strong tones of narcissism from its lead characters (but hey who wasn’t narcissistic in their early 20s?!). Overall, there is plenty of good in Theatrical’s American Idiot, not least the absolutely stellar band led by Musical Director Tahra Cannon.
book and lyrics Billie Joe Armstrong | co-writer Michael Mayer | featuring the music of Green Day
Director Scott Bradley
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | Little Chapel St, Prahran VIC
Dates: 9 – 26 March 2023