Photos – Jeff Busby
The key to We Will Rock You’s success is the music, colour, movement, music, a few witty lines, excellent vocals, music, fun characters, songs, great cast – and did we mention the music?
It’s Queen, after all – the show romps through at least two dozen much-loved classics, created with Freddy Mercury’s theatricality in their DNA and perfect for stunning lead vocalists and chorus alike.
At its most serious, it's a commentary on our obsession with virtual reality and modern technology over good old solid garage band rock music. But in reality it's more like a Queen tribute band concert with a live music video thrown in.
Guitarist Brian May and percussionist Roger Taylor both acted as music supervisors of the production, and the mostly hidden band, floating above the stage and led by keyboardist Dave Skelton, holds the whole piece together like invisible glue.
With a swag of awards already to its credit and a seemingly endless supply of Queen fans happy to hear their favourites, We Will Rock You has a proven track record. It opened in London in 2002, was warmly welcomed by Melbourne in 2003 and has been showing somewhere in the world ever since. It was crowned the UK’s favourite stage show in 2011, having received a standing ovation at each of its 3600+ performances there. Worldwide, it has already sold more than 16 million tickets – when Queen was still performing, that was probably equivalent to Australia’s total population.
It is set in a scary, dystopian future where minds are ruled, Radio Gaga-like, with plastic pop music construed by the Killer Queen (Casey Donovan) who has uploaded herself into reality from a computer game. The only challenge to her total control is the threat of live music – cue the rebellious youth (called the Bohemians) who are determined to reclaim the freedom that is rumoured to have existed in a hazy past, and had something to do a King of Rock, four tousle-haired guys, some magical words and a guy called Mercury.
There is a chosen one – who rebels against his given hashtag to call himself Galileo Figaro – and of course there’s a girl. No prizes for guessing the ending. Or the closing song.
It’s all good fun in a light and silly way, and Galileo’s gal – who he calls Scaramouche (‘…but people will call me Shaggy Bush’ – ‘No they won’t’ – ‘I would’) – provides the cynical lines to balance his saccharine dreaminess.
Fans of director/writer Ben Elton’s earlier TV work, such as The Young Ones and Blackadder, will recognise his dry Brit style most in Scaramouche, although 1970s pop legend Brian Mannix picks up a few classic lines too, as rebel leader Buddy Holly.
Ironically, Mannix has one of the weaker voices among the cast, but still belts out an ok solo.
Leads Gareth Keegan (Galileo) and Erin Clare (Scaramouche) nail every one of their duets, as do the Bohemian lead couple Thern Reynolds and Jaz Flowers. Casey Donovan is magnificently evil as the Killer Queen and choreographer Arlene Phillips has particular fun creating a dominatrix-style aura around her, with especially good use made of pink fluffy dusters. Simon Russell plays the Queen's flunky, General Khashoggi.
The all-singing, all-dancing ensemble cast of 21 provide much of the colour and movement, and do it well. They are blessed with fabulous costumes (designed by Tim Goodchild) but there’s also a welcome fluidity to the show, which keeps its momentum flowing – essential when the first half alone is 90 minutes long. The pace only slows in a couple of places – intentionally for a more reflective song – but among the flambouyant silliness the pauses almost jar: 'Oh, are we supposed to be taking this seriously?'
Still my main gripe is with the venue. The renovated Regent looks stunning but with seating for 2143 and two undersized main doors off each floor, the interval is barely long enough to escape to the loo – especially for girls; having just one ‘convenience’ room for such a big crowd is truly inconvenient – it’s quicker to pop over the road to the public toilets than queue up. But it's not a deal breaker.
As a premise of tying together as many Queen songs as possible, Ben Elton’s script is as viable as many other musicals, and possibly less predictable than some. It’s safe to say that if you’re after a deep, soul-shaping tale that gives you pause to reflect on the human condition, this might not be your bag. Unless you’re a Queen fan, in which you’ll love it anyways.
John Frost, Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Entertainment and Tribeca Theatrical Productions
WE WILL ROCK YOU
by Queen and Ben Elton
Venue: Regent Theatre | 191 Collins St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 1 September – 30 October 2016
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed–Sat 8pm, Sat matinee 2pm, Sunday 1pm & 6pm
Tickets: From $69.90
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au | 1300 111 011