American Idiot

Date 9th March 2022
Society Mid-Cheshire Musical Theatre Company
Venue The Plaza Theatre, Northwich
Type of Production Musical
Director Louise Colohan
Musical Director Ian Sherwood & Caitlin Sherwood
Choreographer Jenna Finnigan

Report

Author: Joe Clarke

Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company opened their 2022 season this week with the Green Day musical, American Idiot by Billy Joe Armstrong. The venue for this production was The Plaza Theatre in Northwich – I have to say that this was the perfect venue for this setting. The acoustics, set design and set up was in-keeping with the overall rock theme and it was great to see something in a brand-new setting such as this. Taking the helm as director for MCMTC once again was Louise Colohan. Louise brought many, brilliant elements to this production. Her vision for productions is excellent and I often look forward to her productions. For this one, the set was stripped back to the raw brick which enhanced the feel and set the tone. The use of the wall of video screens was brilliant and helped establish location and tone. From the news reports of 9/11 to the explosions of war, it’s fair to say that the video’s added layers to scenes. The static set helped create levels which were used throughout. The floor space in the audience was used throughout too and the fourth wall was broken from the beginning which made the audience feel part of the production. I also loved the use of under the stage for the homeless people, who made their way around the audience during ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ – which, if you listen to the lyrics of the song, was a stroke of genius. As this is a fully sung through musical it’s very important for the audience to listen to the lyrics in order to fully understand what is going on. I have to say that the storytelling/plot sadly wasn’t totally clear on the opening night and some of the audience didn’t understand the plot.

Whilst I loved the lighting design, with the use of gobos on the walls and the ceiling, again, making the audience part of the action, I have to say that for many scenes there were far too many cast members in darkness. Whilst I also appreciated the use of darkness and shadows which complimented scenes and added to the tone and genre, the pools of light were too small, and actors often didn’t hit their mark which left them in darkness. The lighting design, however, was great. I really did love and appreciate all of the nuances such as effects etc, but the worst thing about the opening night sadly, were the lighting issues and the lack of storytelling. There were also a few first night gremlins with mics cues but this didn’t have any real negative impact.

Visually and vocally, this production was excellent. The cacophony of sound from the cast was outstanding and what was wholly apparent was the cast were having the time of their lives up on the stage! The levels of band, cast and audience were excellent – a tough gig of a rock musical in a new venue! What did come across was the angst, anti-establishmentarianism, rebellion and general distain for Governmental control – something that is still prevalent today in our own modern society!

The musical director(s) for this production were father and daughter duo Ian and Caitlin Sherwood. There is nothing more to say other than the band were outstanding!! Whilst you wouldn’t imagine how two violins and a cello would fit in to a rock musical… my goodness – they certainly did – and more! The drum solos from Amy Gray were super! Each member of the band added layers upon layers to this soundtrack and each were excellent in their own right! I cannot say how brilliant the band were!

Choreographer, Jenna Finnigan had a tough job on her hands to add any choreography to this rock musical as it’s so changeable in tone and tempo. I actually enjoyed the choreography and appreciated how the contemporary style juxtaposed to the rock genre. The randomness of the choreography, and staging, enhanced the action, especially during the drug taking scenes and moments of heightened drama. Whilst some of the ensemble cast looked a little out of their depth at times and others not in unison when they needed to be, I felt that the choreography pushed the boundaries of uncomfortableness and added layers to the production.

Whilst the costumes were a little obvious, they didn’t distract and helped establish character. The set was used well throughout. I liked the raw edges which again was appropriate for the type of musical. I understood the overall staging and how it was used to show the passages of time and changes to different locations, but I’m not sure this was fully understood by all audience members. The design of having the programme in the shape of an album cover was a very clever touch, and again, enhanced the overall visuals. Well done Caitlin Sherwood and Alex Scrowther!

The casting of the main three characters was wonderful! Blair Smith (Johnny) Jack Parry (Tunny) and Scott Heath (Will) were all excellent in their own right! Blair Smith gave a stunningly unstated and effortless performance of Johnny. This actor/musician was able to showcase both his excellent vocals and guitar playing whilst keeping the audience enthralled throughout! Blair is very watchable and very much a leading man! Jack Parry was the surprise of the night for me. I’ve seen Jack in many productions and it's only until now that Jack has surged to the front and shone brighter than bright! Great vocals! Scott Heath had the toughest job of all as he mainly sat on the sofa for the entire performance, but I could sympathise with Will’s pain and self-destruction, and I could listen to Scott’s voice all night long! There were so many highlights in songs that it’s very hard to choose a favourite! A HUGE well done to all three!  

Verity McKay played the role of Whatsername. Sadly, Verity lost her voice midway through the second Act which meant that she had to lip sync to the rest of her track to Amy Rattenbury’s brilliant vocals. Before her voice went, I was enjoying Verity’s performance and her singing – I wish her a speedy recovery.

Amelia Lambert played the role of Heather, Will’s pregnant girlfriend. It’s clear that Amelia’s belt is brilliant, and she can reach notes and sing beautifully. It would’ve been great to have a little more light and shade, however. I enjoyed her performance overall.

Ric Gauld didn’t quite have the impact needed for me as Favourite son. It seemed more of a parody performance; however Ric was very watchable and had great stage presence – one to watch for the future! Whilst it is a smaller role, Georgia Brooksbank certainly showcased her great vocals in the role of Extraordinary Girl.

Michael Shneck’s version of St Jimmy was like marmite. I personally liked this version of St Jimmy. I could tell from the direction and staging that St Jimmy was Johnny’s alter ego but I know this wasn’t totally apparent from others in the audience. For me, Michael’s commitment to role and energy onstage was excellent and you cannot fault this! Personally, this was the best role to date that I’ve seen from him!

Overall, whilst this seemed slightly more like a concert, rather than a musical, I have to say that it was a brilliant production! The vocals from the entire cast, supported by the brilliant band, were excellent – probably the best I’ve ever heard from this society! I loved the dark, raw, grittiness from the staging, choreography, and direction. As I mentioned before, the cast looked like they were really loving being on stage which made the audience feel much more at ease. Whilst I know that this musical isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the audience walked away after being thoroughly entertained!

Since opening night, I have come away and listened to the soundtrack everyday since! I have to say, I appreciate this musical now, more than I ever did before! It has also made me want to be in it too – no greater compliment than wanting to be a part of a production!

I thank Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company for their wonderful hospitality (Mike Finnigan) and I wish them all the very best for the next production of Big Fish in September 2022.