Review: Fighting Chance Productions’ American Idiot

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The cast of American Idiot. This looks suspiciously similar to my high school’s Grease cast photo.

Like every other person who was a teenager after the nineties, Green Day was part of the soundtrack of my angsty rebellious years (which, in my case, was mostly staying up later than my bedtime and wearing a lot of black). The album American Idiot has become a rite of passage in learning how to stick it to the man, and it also, ironically, skyrocketed Green Day into the commercial spotlight.

In 2009, the album was turned into a Broadway musical, using the music from the album, as well as selected tracks from Green Day’s next album, 21st Century Breakdown, as its soundtrack. It won a pair of Tonys (for best scenic design and best lighting design), but to be frank: the show itself is weak. It’s hard to make something out of nothing. There’s very little story, but someone desperately wanted to try to thread together unconnected songs until they made sense. The show begins with three best friends wanting to get out of their one-horse town (as every punk song ever describes): one gets his girlfriend pregnant and stays, one joins the army, and the last goes on a drug-fuelled romp through “The City,” finds the girl of his dreams, screws up the relationship, and comes back home. The protagonist never learns anything, no growth really occurs, and the audience is sort of lost trying to make sense of all the characters and how they weave together. It’s clear that the show was only open for a little over a year on Broadway because of its name.

But I digress. Fighting Chance is producing the western Canadian premiere of American Idiot, a feat they should be proud of. The young cast swings off of ladders and wheeled staircases (which, admittedly, distracted me as a former warehouse employee – none of the staircases were ever stabilized throughout the show and someone could have been seriously injured had they slipped) wearing rock n’ roll t-shirts and ripped jeans. This show definitely encapsulates the feeling of being young and only afraid of one thing: becoming your parents.

What impressed me most about this specific production was how multitalented the cast was – a number of times throughout the show, a character will stop to not only sing the song, but accompany themselves on guitar, drums, violin, or even the accordion. At the end, all of the cast came on stage to sing the friends-forever anthem “Time of Your Life,” all holding and playing (or at least, pretending to play) acoustic guitar.

Although the three leading men are the ones who get the most stage time, the real standouts were some of the ladies in the cast, specifically Allyson Fournier as the pregnant teen Heather and Tiana Swan as the Extraordinary Girl.

All in all, the show does a good job of reinterpreting its source material. This specific production is how the show should be seen: performed by kids full of piss and vinegar in a non-profit couple hundred seat theatre. If I had watched it in a multi-thousand Broadway house, I probably would have gagged at the irony.

American Idiot runs until August 27 at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver. Fighting Chance is simultaneously performing Heathers: The Musical at the same theatre until August 26. You can get tickets for both here.

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