‘American Idiot’ was rocking.
Green Day’s music is an iconic and rallying transportation to the early 2000s, and as there are no Green Day concerts on the horizon, Gold Coast Little Theatre (GCLT) captured their essence and brought all of the angst, energy and rock of the band to the Gold Coast.
‘American Idiot’ is a rock opera based upon Green Day’s album of the same name, with some extra songs thrown in. The nature of this jukebox musical, with little to no dialogued scenes, made the already weak plot arduous to follow. However, this is easily forgiven considering the music is the star of the show.
The story spotlights three friends: Johnny (Todd Jesson), Will (George Pulley) and Tunny (Jack Harbour) unhappy with their lives in suburbia and with little prospects. Audiences follow their journeys as they decide to start living life with meaning. Johnny moves to the city and manifests a drug-dealing alter ego, St Jimmy (Cat Deller); Will stays in the suburbs upon discovering that his girlfriend, Heather (Chloe Smith), is pregnant; and Tunny enlists in the army. Originally a one-act 90-minute show, GCLT chose to split the musical into two acts. While the original format is most often seen, this choice didn’t seem to hinder the momentum and would have been an enjoyed respite considering the energetic performances delivered by this cast.
Set designers, Stuart Morgan and Lawrie Esmond, made the most of the small space. The stage was decked out with scaffolding on the rises, graffitied bricks and an often-utilised fireman’s pole which all assisted in creating the punk atmosphere. Cleverly, the set transitioned into a bus for the number ‘Holiday’ where the boys set out for their new city lives. The ensemble of actors used their physicality to replicate the jostling of a bus and this made for a nice contrast to the predominantly static set. Prior to the show, the ‘American Idiot’ logo was projected onto the brick walls on either side of the audience, expanding the theatrical space and grunge vibe. To further set the scene of the early 2000s, they created a montage of TV clips from the era to kick off the show (although this was slightly too lengthy).
Lighting design by Andrew Borg and Morgan effectively established the atmosphere. Red and black colours were often utilised in line with the ‘American Idiot’ logo colour scheme. There was also frequent use of red, white and blue – representing the colours of the American flag. This was highly effective during ‘Favourite Son’ (performed by Johnny Lawler) as Tunny is conscripted to the war. Complete with dancers in the same patriotic colours, salutes and Lawler’s ‘Tom Cruise style’ fighter pilot charisma, the scene encapsulated a punk version of American propaganda. Aside from the glamorous red, white and blue dresses in that scene, costumes by Morgan and the cast were everything that would be expected from the grunge scene and followed the red and black colour scheme consistent with the lighting.
Leading the cast as Johnny, Jesson delivered a focused performance and traversed the journey from down-and-out wanderer to broken drug addict sincerely. His smooth vocals amped up some of Green Day’s biggest hits. As Johnny’s girlfriend Whatsername, Becky Morgan was a necessary presence in the show. At times there could have been a little more light and shade in their interactions with each other, so audiences could better invest in their relationship. It seemed quite placid until its culmination.
Pulley as Will was believable in his defeated apathy towards his girlfriend and unexpected son. His and Harbour’s voices harmonised beautifully in ‘Give Me Novacaine’. Chloe Smith as Heather provided a much-needed strong female character who pointed out the self-indulgence of these men. Her vocals were sweet yet strong and she enriched depth into her scenes.
As Tunny, Harbour’s honest portrayal clearly showcased the seduction of the American dream to his deployment and subsequent injury. Although the script made his storyline seem a little rushed, cramming in an awkward relationship with Extraordinary Girl (Jamie Catherwood), Harbour approached it with sincerity.
Due to the lack of direction in the source material, each of the leads could have pushed their journeys and degenerations further for clarity and for the audience to empathise more with the characters; however, they all did an admirable job.
The character that injected electricity and mayhem to this show was Johnny’s drug-dealing manifestation alter-ego St Jimmy, brought to life by Deller. Deller’s enigmatic presence and rock vocal tones commanded the stage. This character can be portrayed by all genders and it was refreshing to see a female St Jimmy, as it provided a slightly different energy and her tone cut through the male-dominated show.
Unfortunately, there were numerous sound and microphone faults throughout the show which disrupted many of the songs, but this will hopefully be remedied through the show run. As a testament to the actors’ professionalism (particularly Jesson), they were never phased by these interruptions and continued their performances with the same gusto and focus as before.
Rounding out the cast was the enthusiastic ensemble. They filled out musical numbers with their energy and, propelled by the strong impetus in Flynn Anderson’s choreography, gave a big jolt of headbanging adrenaline. The simple movements as a group tapped into the show’s anarchical roots. Anderson’s choreography also allowed many ensemble members to show off their acrobatic skills which made for exciting moments. A stand-out performance from the ensemble came from Dana Singer when she was able to flex her powerhouse vocals as Heather’s friend in ‘Too Much Too Soon’. At times the ensemble as a whole could have made their harmonies stronger and clearer, but this may have been linked to the sound mishaps.
Finally, the rock band themselves composed of Lawrie Esmond (acoustic/electric guitar), Jem Nichols (drums), Charles Galea (electric/slide guitar) and Will David (electric bass) were a driving force in the musical impact and brought the rock concert to life.
Overall, ‘American Idiot’ was a rocking night out and Gold Coast Little Theatre should be commended for putting on a spirited and nostalgic night of good music.
Gold Coast Little Theatre’s ‘American Idiot’ plays until Saturday, 2 October 2021, so make sure you ‘wake up before September ends’ and grab your ticket from Gold Coast Little Theatre’s website.
Photography by TTL Photography