We Will Rock You (John Frost in association with Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Entertainment and Tribeca Theatrical Productions)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
July 10 – August 14
In the dystopian future of the I-Planet, ‘Honkey Tonk Woman’, ‘Dirty Diana’ and ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ are poetic text relics of the past, as rock has been replaced by a mix of social media and manufactured computer generated pop. Despite expectations of mindless conformity, dreamer Galileo (Gareth Keegan) wants to break free and, not being like other (gaga) girls, the smart-mouthed, assertive Scaramouche (Erin Clare) just wants someone to love. The pair unite to escape from the evil Killer Queen (Casey Donovan) and her henchman Kashoggi (Simon Russell) to join a group of bohemians (lead by Brian Mannix as Buddy) to release the hidden ‘axe’ and bring down the evil GlobalSoft regime.
It is a flimsy narrative clearly conceived as convenient vehicle to its soundtrack of Queen classics. And that is ok, because, as is announced pre-show “We Will Rock You” serves as a promise as much as a show title. And rock audiences they do, thanks to the band’s brilliant recreation of Queen’s iconic sound. Indeed, at times the show appears more concert-style in its presentation, with songs performed directly to the audience rather than as onstage interactions.
As the naïve Galileo, Keegan showcases an able rock tenor voice that only really rises to occasion during its ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ encore. Eric Clare, meanwhile, is sensational as the sarcastic and cynical misfit Scaramouche, showing great comic timing and powerful and controlled vocals. Alongside Bohemian boyfriend Brit (Thern Reynolds), Jaz Flowers is another dynamic stage presence as Oz, equally impressive in her delivery of rock numbers like ‘I Want It All’ as in poignant performance of ‘No-One But You’ in Bohemian tribute to the legends who have died young.
Casey Donovan is an intimidating Killer Queen, brought to life by uploading herself from a computer game, full of fierce facial expressions that add to the show’s initial pantomime feel but make for a vocally inconsistent performance. Uncanny X-Men’s Brian Mannix, however, is a likable chief of the Bohemians, engaging the audience with his often self-deprecating humour and mispronunciation of words as part of the group’s muddled mythology of cherished artefacts from the analogue past.
Sparse staging and simple choreography serve to showcase the sanitisation of the show’s dystopian world from the opening ensemble number ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and later effectively construct the Hard Rock Café rebel headquarters. Bohemian costumes in this section are also interesting in their detailed nods to iconic rock fashions. There is attention too in the not-so subtle littering of song references throughout the show’s dialogue (as Galileo shares the rock lyric fragments he hears in in his head), with mentions ranging from the Beatles, Stones, Springsteen and U2 to Brtiney, Gaga and even our own Farnsy . Though perhaps overdone, they are amusing enough and serve to widen the show’s appeal to a younger audience.
While the plot remains largely unchanged, this “We Will Rock You’ offers a new incarnation of Ben Elton’s 2002 work as it accounts for modern technology to include references to hashtags, lols and alike and morphs ‘Radio Gaga’ into ‘Internet Gaga’. The inclusions are often overdone to the point of distraction. Also, many scenes are simply too long thanks to unnecessary songs, tenuously forced into the narrative at the expense of its overall cohesion.
Despite its ongoing flaws and initial-release critical panning, “We Will Rock” remains a popular jukebox musical, with good reason. At the core of its opportune narrative is a classic tale with Arthurian legend echoes. Sure its story is played out in all sorts of silliness, but that it what makes it such a magnifico-o-o-o-o-opportunity to rock on.