Producer Nick Skubj confided in the post-event do that production company, Shake and Stir, cogitated for two years as to whether Brisbane was ready for 'American Idiot'.
We won’t know for certain until the curtain drops on the QPAC season but if the opening night is any guide then the answer is ‘hell, yeah’.
The packed premiere received hoops and hollers from an appreciative and seemingly knowledgeable audience throughout the 90-minute foray through Green Day’s album of the same name as well as several songs from '21st Century Breakdown', culminating with a well-earned standing ovation.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer developed 'American Idiot' apparently reflecting the frustrations, fears, dreams and challenges of life post-11 September, 2001.
Leaving aside disenchanted, teen, angst-ridden, anti-conservative, (yawn), socio-political commentary – set every young generation’s clock to it – the timing of the Australian premiere couldn’t be more serendipitous on account of recent events in the United States. But the audience isn’t there to ingest a healthy helping of its own political bias – or otherwise – as the case may be. It’s there to delight in a high-energy, well-choreographed contemporary night of music and theatre.
The musical follows a relatively easy-to-interpret plot despite its lack of dialogue: three small-town boys seek an escape from their mundane lives and book bus tickets to the big city in the ultimate act of 'rebellion'. One stays behind to become a father, to him, an unwelcome piece of news; another enlists in the army.
And so we follow the lead character, Johnny, unravelling as he experiments with sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, experiencing heartbreak, a mental breakdown and an overall questioning of 'his purpose in life'; your stereotypical coming-of-age, teen to adult concerns weaved within a predictable beginning, conflict, resolution format. While some scenes were quite confronting, they were tactfully and tastefully executed.
Ben Bennett (Johnny) was an absolute pleasure to watch perform; he threw himself into his character with a fierce energy and certain innocent charm, belting out each solo with relentless passion and exceptional vocals. All characters were played by jaw-droppingly gifted singers, dancers and actors; the calibre of talent was impressively high – and perhaps it is this, more than anything, which will carry 'American Idiot' to commercial success and critical acclaim here.
Ben Bennett (Johnny). © Dylan Evans.
The Living End front man Chris Cheney made for an entertaining character addition (St. Jimmy - Johnny’s smooth, drug-addled alter ego), showcasing his strong, experienced vocals that are by no means fading anytime soon; with only a hint of underlying awkwardness in his first musical theatre role. Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) assumes the mantle from tomorrow (28th February).
Barely a decade old, production company Shake and Stir has fast established itself on the fore edge of Brisbane’s theatrical scene. Few surprises, then, it was they who punted – in conjunction with QPAC – the licensing of this production which boasts a formula not yet tested in Australia on a large scale.
The production was faithful to the original in all significant respects: the video wall, the cityscape and sets – and executed with all the pace, creativity and vibrancy Shake and Stir conjures in all its outings – including this, its boldest to date. Did we mention the ever-present, just off-stage driving guitars exploding when called upon for Green Day punkish mayhem?
'American Idiot' was enthralling, emotional and intense; a production to engage an audience of any age, background, or musical preference. With nothing upon which to improve, American Idiot can only be ★★★★★
'American Idiot' plays QPAC until 12 March.