Part rock concert, part musical, We Will Rock You opened last week in QPAC’s Lyric Theatre and although the plot is not a literary masterpiece, a standing ovation was proof that the audience didn’t need textual depth to having a rollicking good time.
If you were a teen in the era of cassette tapes, then Queen was certainly one of the mainstays in your Walkman.
The new Australian production of We Will Rock You, based on the songs of Queen with book by Ben Elton (The Young Ones, Black Adder, Popcorn), is a celebration of Rock n’ Roll, an homage to Freddy Mercury, an appeal to support live music, and a warning to humanity about its over-reliance on digital devices. And it’s all wrapped up in a riotous romp through Queen’s music catalogue.
The show is set in a dystopian future where people on the iPlanet (formerly known as Earth), only interact with each other through digital devices and rock music only exists as fragments of unconscious memory in Galileo’s (Gareth Keegan) dreams.
Unaware of the history of music, he channels the spirit of rock and blurts song lyrics like he is inflicted with musical tourettes. The young rebel, along with another misfit, Scaramouche (Erin Clare), stumbles across other sympathisers – the Bohemians. Hiding out in their headquarters (a gutted out Hard Rock Café of course), the Bohemians are the underground resistance against the brainwashing global corporation Global Soft, who have destroyed all musical instruments and forbid original music other than what they program. The Bohemians are fighting for a great cause, although they don’t really know what that is, and they are waiting for ‘the dreamer’ to help them break free. Could it be Galileo?
The band, under the musical direction of David Skelton, is full-bodied and explosive – Queen fans would not be disappointed. It was apt that the band was visible (albeit sporadically) on a mezzanine level, as the music is the really the drawcard and the shining crown of the musical. All kitted out in iconic rock band t-shirts, the band pumped up the audience and got them stamping, clapping, and rockin’ out, which helped give the show its rock concert feel. However, the sound mix needed some tweaking, especially in the lower register of some of the female singers.
The minimalist set (Mark Fisher and Stufish Entertainment Architects) with scaffolding, projector screen and impressive lighting rig complete with lasers (lighting design by Willie Williams) also supported the rock concert atmosphere. Perhaps it was also in part a producer’s decision to make the set more tourable, but at times the substitution of the projector screen over a set was noticeably lacking in quality production values. However, the energy of the entire cast kept the audience focused on the action and the set became a minor quibble.
Former Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan as the Killer Queen was just… well… killer. Her voice of steel thundered through the audience as she brought out her inner bitch to play one of the most fabulous villainesses to don the stage. Her presence not only commanded the stage but the entire auditorium.
Donning a cosplay-esque costume of leather and studs (costume design Tim Goodchild) was Erin Clare as Scaramouche, the misfit with a rock chick heart, and she had sass in spades. With some of the best lines in the show, her sarcastic retorts were delivered with deadpan accuracy, but it was her A-mazing vocals that were out of the iPlanet! – “Somebody To Love” was especially spine tingling.
In fact, it was the chicks who really rocked this musical. Jaz Flowers as Oz with her power ballad “No one but you”, showed an extremely dexterous voice as it built from a tender restrained beginning to a powerhouse rockout by the end.
The pairing of Flowers and Thern Reynolds as the Bohemians Oz and Brit had great chemistry and their song “I Want It All” (in fact their entire performance) was so high octane that it was like their veins were pumping with pure Red Bull.
A great addition to the cast was Brian Mannix as Buddy, the father figure of the Bohemians. He was a hoot and looked like he was having as much fun as the audience.
Costuming by Goodchild was a delight. Set in two different worlds, the Ga-Ga kids looked like plastic Barbie and Ken dolls, the yuppies with their slick black circuitry suits and silver canes and headsets reminded me of Madonna, and the Bohemians reminded me of… well, a bunch of bohemians with nods to past and present music rock demi-gods.
If you are after an in-depth story with layers and twists, this is not the musical for you.
It is largely a fun, high energy, tongue-in-cheek spoof on the music industry, online social media, and the digital sheep we have become. But more than that, We Will Rock You is a tribute to rock legends Queen, and a great night of entertainment for any fan, or child born in the 70’s and 80’s.
We Will Rock You will play at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre until August 20 before opening in Melbourne on August 30.