Idiot’s tale of sound and fury

The explosive rock musical American Idiot has been revived to mark both the show’s 10th anniversary and 15 years since the rellease of Green Day’s  Grammy winning album on which it is based.

For those of a certain generation Californian punk rock band Green Day was an essential part of their growing up. X-Factor finalist Luke Friend who is making his musical theatre debut in the show which comes on tour to the Sheffield Lyceum next week, is one of them.

“American Idiot was probably about the first CD I bought,” says the 22-year-old. “Green Day was a big part of my life for a while which was really, really lovely when I got the call to do the audition.

“Billie Joe Armstrong was a very angry punk kid with two best mates who just wanted to write angry songs and that’s how Green Day started. They were the resurgence of a big break of punk I seem to remember. I was at that age where I thought, wow, these guys are cool.

 “I was in in the Bradford Choir when I first bought it and I had a Walkman CD player and would just play it on repeat when I was in this tour van with the choir. They’d ask what I was listening to and it was a lot different to what we were singing.”

American Idiot was not  just about teenage social anxiety but also inspired by 9/11 and  the Twin Towers. “Billie Joe Armstrong was so angry about it and ticked off that he ended up writing what I think is a masterpiece, ” continues Friend.

The musical is sungthrough and focuses on three disaffected young lads in smalltown America  – Johnny, Tunny and Will  – each searching for meaning in a post 9-11 world. 

Johnny and Tunny quit Jingletown and set off to see the world. “They hit a lot of crossroads on the way and go their separate ways. Johnny goes down a very drugs-fuelled route and that’s when my character comes in to play,” says Friend. “St Jimmy, he’s a wild, crazy character – which is the least to be said, he’s toxic.

“Sam Lavery plays Whatsername who  tries to take Johnny down the good route and I try to take him down the opposite route.” 

“Billie wrote the character of St Jimmy as his alter ego.

When he gets angry that is essentially his character. He puts him in songs, there will be a lyric saying St Jimmy, he is back again. He is an enigma and certainly the rage part. He’s an angry boy but also very much the leader, he likes  to be the centre of attention. He’s a brilliant part to play but he is very complex and has so many layers to him. He can be thoughtful at times but others not, it’s weird.” 

It was Broadway director  Michael Mayer who had the idea of turning it into a live musical but when he approached Armstrong “he actually ‘ummed and ‘ahed for a bit, ” reports Friend. So a demonstration for Billie and the band. “The first song they did in front of Billie to try and pitch the show was Last Night on Earth which is one I am involved in in the show. They did a version that was totally different from how the band had done it and he totally fell in love with it. That’s when he got really passionate about the whole thing and got fully involved.”

Leeds-born Luke Friend came third in the tenth series of The X Factor in 2013.

Singing wasn’t always his thing. “I moved to Devon when I was just turning 13 and that’s kind of when all the singing started really,” he says, pleasingly with Yorkshire accent still intact.

”I had joined a theatre group called Debut Theatre School before I moved to Devon and had an interest in the arts. It was more about acting than singing and dancing, I remember doing a lot of ballet classes, not being able to get my leg where it needed to be. I have never been the most flexible character. I think it was the acting that gave me the confidence to go on and potentially do stuff.”

American Idiot might have emerged in the early Noughties but Friend thinks it still has something to say  for a new generation. “I think it’s so sad we live in a world which doesn’t seem to be getting any better, without wanting to sound too miserable but we’ve got that Trump guy as president which I still can’t really believe. But this certainly resonates with this current presidency and we on stage are expressing that anger and rage. 
“It even suggests and relates to things like terrorism and so I feel the show is definitely as relevant as much as it was 10 years ago – or perhaps more. I think it’s about getting the balance of things. It’s about growing up. The whole show is about how does someone go through that and learn from that.”
American Idiot is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday, March 26-30.