We Will Rock You will … rock you
The hit musical based on the music of Queen finally hits the road in North America, and the show definitely lives up to its title!
Twelve years ago, a musical opened in London’s West End built around the music of classic rock group Queen. After playing in venues around the world, We Will Rock You finally comes to North America with a tour that opened October 15 at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre.
The story takes place in a futuristic world controlled by a worldwide conglomerate, GlobalSoft, which forbids any kind of musical creativity. Instead, the company, run by Killer Queen, creates and programs music which the people of the world stream and download for their enjoyment. No one is allowed to write or play music on their own, but one man who calls himself Galileo Figaro keeps dreaming words and music that are about to drive him crazy. He believes the dreams are a message, so he has to break free from GlobalSoft and the clutches of Killer Queen and Kashoggi to find out what his dreams mean.
Along the way he meets a girl who he names Scaramouche (the GaGa kids all have URLs for names) – because it was better than Barenaked Lady – and they stumble their way across the desolate landscape to Las Vegas and the Hard Rock Cafe. There they meet a band of Bohemians who are the keepers of the planet’s musical history, giving themselves names like Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Ozzy Osbourne, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus, and discovering that Galileo, or Gal for short, is the Dreamer they’ve been waiting for to bring music back to the world – real music, not Computer Recorded Auto-tuned Pop – but the only clue is a mysterious poem, of sorts, that talks about the Seven Rivers of Rhye, a hidden axe, and music that hangs silently in the air. What does it all mean?
I won’t tell you because getting there is half the fun. And if the plot sounds absolutely goofy, well … it is. But in a good way. And the main thread of the story was eerily ahead of its time, before the real advent of music, TV, movies and books becoming less physical media and almost purely digital. With the launch of the North American tour (the show has previously played in the US only in Las Vegas), writer Ben Elton has had a chance to update the book to encompass what music and media have become today, as well as adding some tweaks to keep the show topical. No one knew who Miley Cyrus was 12 years ago, or what twerking was for that matter, but both are cleverly incorporated into the story.
And the story is clever as Galileo and other characters occasionally string together various bits of well-known song lyrics to form a sentence (“But I was born this way!”). Pop culture references abound and the cast manages to keep everything cheeky without letting it become cheesy. And the audience eats it up. The stars of the show all give wonderful performances and can sing their hearts out, which must be a daunting task when standing on a stage in front of a theatre full of people while re-interpreting some of the most well-known and beloved songs on the planet.
Brian Justin Crum is terrific as Galileo, the tortured soul whose destiny is to become the savior of the world (it’s all very Matrix-y). Ruby Lewis is very feisty as Scarmouche, and she brings a real Emma Stone vibe to the role. Ryan Knowles steals the show as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, a burned out rocker dude who has no clue, but holds the key to unlocking Gal’s dreams. Jacqueline B. Arnold burns up the stage as Killer Queen (think Tina Turner’s Acid Queen from Tommy crossed with Patti Labelle), and P.J. Griffith is an appropriately smarmy Kashoggi (at one point appearing on a video screen looking very much like Max Headroom). I have to give special mention to Erica Peck as Ozzy Osbourne, who gets a showstopping, heart-wrenching solo with “No One But You” that still brings tears to my eyes. As good as everyone is, Ms. Peck stole the show with that one number.
The show’s set is simple but spectacular as well, incorporating a large video wall into some scenes to represent part of the set or just to broadcast various images to enhance a musical number. The amazing band is seen occasionally on a platform above the stage but they appear and disappear at various points in the story. One thing’s for sure, they capture the very essence of Queen’s musical style during the 24 numbers which include “Radio GaGa,” “Under Pressure,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Flash,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” Curiously, with all the talk of Bohemians seeking their “rhapsody,” there’s only a brief snippet of the song heard during the show. But don’t go running for the exits as soon as the lights go down after the curtain call. (Our opening night audience got a real thrill when Brian May joined the cast on stage to perform his guitar solo during the encore.)
If you’ve been wondering if We Will Rock You is worth seeing when it comes to your town, the answer is a resounding yes! It’s silly and campy, but the cast and the music make the show incredibly enjoyable. If you’re a Queen fan, definitely catch the show which is really a tribute to Freddie Mercury. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ll probably know a good portion of the songs, and the music, dancing and really gorgeous cast will make the trip to the theatre worth your while. We Will Rock You plays in Baltimore through October 20th then hits the road through August 2014 in various cities including Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Nashville, Miami, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Toronto, Seattle, Los Angeles and points in-between. Check out the official website for more information.