American Idiot: The Musical

American Idiot, the album, was a big part of my life throughout high school. I have only listened to a select few of their backlog, and have heard even less of their newer material to be quite honest. But American Idiot highlights a vivid part of my memory: walking to and from school each day roaring the songs silently to myself, being suspended from school, being incredibly uncomfortable with knowing who I was, and who on earth I should be aiming to be.

It may sound gloomy, but high school was both the worst and best times of my life and this album is undoubtedly one of the soundtracks for it.

Walking into The Arts Theatre threw me right back to that time. On a static ridden TV – the kind that’s not especially of the area, but certainly one I had – was scenes from 9/11 fallout. Bush bumbling, deniers questioning, and most of all terror and anguish in the eyes of Americans. I remember these scenes – I remember how I felt in that period of my life.

The musical opens with, the revolves around, three men – maybe they’re just butting against an age where responsibility should be grabbing them and stringing them up in a half Windsor noose. They feel lost and aimless, but also resistant to becoming the people playing on the TV. Ambition leads them to leave town. It’s not a spoiler, if you’ve heard the album, to say that it doesn’t really work out for them.

The cast were all incredibly energetic – the dancers (who were also often singers) and leads alike. There wasn’t a loose link between any of them. The choreography was fantastic, and outfits just added to my nostalgia for the time.

I have seen others reviewing the show saying that the story is a bit loosey-goosey, and maybe it is to someone that hadn’t heard the album before. To someone who listened to it many times, and spent a large amount of time trying to understand the story, the show felt it was connecting many dots for me and filling in the gaps. Certainly, it felt like someone who enjoyed the music in the past will get more out of it than someone hoping for a story-based musical, akin to Chicago or something.

When the lights were turned up on the audience during one of the numbers, I realised I was grinning like an idiot. I may have been like that for most of the show, without realising. It was delightful and a perfect throwback to a younger me.

Bar Mitzvah Boy, Upstairs At The Gatehouse

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The 70’s, as one audience member put it, was so long ago, but the way the set is dressed is iconic enough to place you right back there. As a millennial, of course, I wasn’t around to experience this, but I did see That 70’s Show which I believe to be a televisual time capsule.

Eliot Green introduces himself, and tells us near draws his 13th birthday, and with it his Bar Mitzvah. He goes on to tell us the story of how the whole ordeal almost killed him. With his family always on hand to tell him how important this day is for them, we heard the story leading right up to that day.

One might be forgiven for thinking this is a simple Jewish musical, preaching the importance of a boys passage to manhood, but they would be wrong. Although under this guise, the story has little to do with religion, and a lot to do with realising that it’s not just the kids that still need to do some growing.

I should mention, more than two thirds into my review, that this is a musical. Based on a 70’s TV show, certainly not a musical, the songs fit in snugly. They’re used as a well refined tool to show the annoyance of some characters whilst still being upbeat and funny. The lead, young Eliot (Adam Bregman) sang with a sweet voice but wavered a little sometimes; fortunately I found this to tie in perfectly with the age of boy he’s playing. Singer of the show may well go to his sister (Lara Stubbs), who on more than one occasion made my heart flutter, or the mother (Sue Kelvin) whose voice was so good that I’d love to hear her sing along to some jazz.

It’s a joy to watch the family as I’m sure there are echoes of everyone’s family in there. Tweenage angst at having the worst family on Earth, despite from the outside all anyone can see is a loving family who’ve worked their whole lives to improve yours. The Green’s felt like a real family, who made me appreciate my own even more.

Consider the subject matter, the show only once got preachy and for only a short time. As someone who still feels like he’s pulling a sly one when I call myself a “man”, this musical left me with a bit more thinking to do on that matter.

I enjoyed the show quite a lot and left feeling better than I entered: three-and-two-thirds out of five arbitrary stars.

The Communist Threat

Just after the end of the second World War, a new enemy shows its face. The Cold War is just about to ignite but a different type of war from what the world has seen before. No longer are hundreds of soldiers in trenches or flying in Spitfires and Messersmith’s. Instead, a war of ideologies and individuals, of nationalism and what it means to be a just society.

It’s in these circumstances Kip finds himself summoned to meet Nightingale. In a grotty hotel basement in Vienna, Kip receives orders that he is to take out a guest in the hotel. Nightingale is on hand to help out with the planning.

Immediately though, something is amiss. This doesn’t feel like an ordinary mission.

With just one setting and two actors, we’re treated to a fascinating story of how they both ended up in this room.

The minimalism forces the story to be told through well-crafted dialogue. There are select few props used along the way. So it follows that in a production like this pacing is vital. You’ll lose yourself in the story. Moments before snapping out of it – right when you should be realising that the fold up chairs of Waterloo’s Vaults aren’t the easiest to get comfortable in – they throw in a well placed twist, timed with precision.

My only gripe with the content is that I felt it could have gotten a touch darker. The laugh out loud moments – common place but unnecessary in this kind of spy thriller – need to be dropped.

David Holmes plays Kip who is perfect at pulling off an air of superiority. Something which any true southerner seems well practiced at. Nightingale (Kieran O’Rourke), contrasts this wonderfully. He plays a northerner so well it made me homesick.

A fantastic tale, let down only a touch by too neatly cleaning up each story line. I’d definitely recommend The Communist Threat. I’d give it four arbitrary stars. Honestly, it’s ridiculous that it only cost £10.