REVIEW: Green Day's American Idiot - Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, May 28

Amelia Lily in American Idiot
Amelia Lily in American Idiot
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American Idiot is a rocking railroad ride that hurtles headlong through every emotion from rage to love - grab a seat, if you dare!

It tackles some important social issues, like drug abuse, social deprivation and perceived injustice and is steeped in political angst and anti-war rhetoric. Not your typical musical then! It's certainly no High School Musical nor Wicked! but you wouldn't expect anything else from America's biggest punk-rock bands.

A scene from American Idiot.

A scene from American Idiot.

Green Day penned the anarchic concept album that became a rock opera in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York's Twin Towers, images of which were played on a big TV screen suspended above the Empire stage before the action sprung spectacularly and emphatically to life with the opening number and title track, American Idiot.

The story follows three soulmates, Johnny, played by double-platinum-selling singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, Tunny (Cellen Chugg Jones) and Will (Steve Rushton), who are struggling to find a clear path through life. Johnny and Tunny head off on a bus in search of a brighter future, leaving Will with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Emma Housley).

Tunny solves his aimless existence by enlisting in the army, but is injured and loses a leg, as Johnny descends into a spiral of drug-fuelled debauchery, encouraged by his alter-ego, nihilistic St Jimmy (Lucas Rush), whose symbolic suicide provided one of the most shocking and powerful scenes of the evening.

Enter Whatsername, brought to life by the strutting Amelia Lily, of X Factor 2011 final fame. After a whirlwind romance with Johnny she ditches him, plunging him into the depths of despair. A special round of applause for Jarrow-born Alice Stokoe, whose Extraordinary Girl dance was expertly executed. If she was trying to avoid being typecast after her lead role in Abba's Mamma Mia!, this show certainly did the trick!

Our three protagonists long for better things and sing a stunning arrangement of Wake Me Up When September Ends, the song that many non-Green Day fans will have been waiting for, and eventually return home.

Green Day die-hards will have lapped up the energy and the raucous, all-action songs, spendidly recreated by the excellent band, who had their own, appropriate place high above the stage amid the grungiest of sets, and the gravelly, rasping voices of Faulkner, Rushton, Chugg Jones and Rush. They were equally at home with the more stripped-back, melodic numbers, with Faulkner shining on Boulevard of Broken Dreams and When It's Time. Their efforts and the perfect tones of the talented Amelia Lily all contributed to a standing ovation after an amazing curtain-call, with the entire company playing guitars and performing Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).

Newcomers to work of Green Day would do well to read the plot and listen to some of the tracks before entering the Empire cauldron. The very nature of the in-your-face songs, little dialogue and loud music meant that there were a few bemused faces at the interval. By the end, the sheer enthusiasm and gutsy power of the cast carried everyone in the audience along on the decidedly bumpy ride.


• American Idiot is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday (May 28). Tickets are available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland. Calls cost 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.