By Milan Perera, Second Year English
Since its premiere in 2002 at the Dominion Theatre, London, ‘We Will Rock You’ has been a favourite spoilsport of arts critics, where they would not spare an opportunity to slate the musical for its apparent shallowness and schmaltzy music. But it appears that the public have been paying very little attention to the bile-laced reviews of the theatre aficionados as it currently stands as one the showstopper musicals with an enduring legacy. According to the official records, ‘We Will Rock You’ is the eleventh longest running musical in West End history.
After its scheduled UK tour in 2020 was abruptly put on hold due to the pandemic, ‘We Will Rock You’ is back on tour marking its 20th anniversary. When I arrived at the Bristol Hippodrome, I was taken aback by the astonishing scenes; a sea of theatregoers extending right the way down to Pipe Lane, eagerly waiting to take their seats for the evening.
When it was announced that Ben Elton would pen a musical based on the music of Queen, there was fair share of raised eyebrows. Ben Elton is without a doubt one of the finest screenwriters in England whose credits include Blackadder, Mr.Bean, The Thin Blue Line and Upstart Crow. The story is set in a dystopian future where a young renegade named Galileo sets himself on a quest to find the ‘True Music.’ The planet is ruled by the evil ‘Killer Queen.’ She is ably assisted by her loyal assistant Khashoggi in her bid to stifle the creative initiatives of her subjects. All musical instruments have been banned, although there is the urban legend that the last of the freedom fighters, a band called Queen, buried electric guitars at a secret location. In his quasi-pilgrimage to unearth the rock music, Galileo is joined by another kindred spirit, Scaramouche.
Despite the criticism levelled at the musical for its perceived shallowness, ‘We Will Rock You’ is a curiously accurate portrayal of a music industry run by a handful of individuals who oversee the output of homogeneous servings of music to numb the senses of a generation, instead of elevating it to Elysian Heights of appreciation. Unsurprisingly there was a reference to the popular singing reality contest, the X Factor.
The multitudes that came and watched the musical over the years were under no illusion that they were coming for a lost play of Garcia Lorca or Strindberg. They came for the music of Queen.
Few bands in the history of music have ever come closer to Queen when it comes to capturing the pomp and circumstance of rock music. Their live shows became nothing short of theatre spectacles with the artistic genius Freddie Mercury as the frontman. Their songs became anthems brimming with raw energy. They are catchy and memorable which prompt you to burst into a singalong after hearing the intro on radio or stereo. In a pre-recorded message that relayed on the PA system, the director Ben Elton kindly requested the audience to leave the singing to the cast!
The two act musical was packed with 24 hit songs from Queen’s back catalogues which included fan favourites such as ‘I want to break free’, ‘We will rock you’, ‘Another one bites the dust’ and ‘We are the champions.’
Ian McIntosh with his uncanny Glenn Frey looks and regal stage presence captured the rebellious rock star persona of Galileo. Elena Skye who played Scaramouche demonstrated that she is not only a sensational vocalist but also effortless in comedic timing. Jenny O’Leary’s searing vocals as she launched into anthem after anthem with flourish was a sight to behold; she was menacing as the Killer Queen. In act two O’Leary had the unenviable task of singing three contrasting numbers one after the other; the humorous ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ followed by the joyous ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ to the brooding ‘Another One Bites The Dust.’ She stepped up to the challenge with ease. Michael McKell as Cliff also shone when he provided a poignant rendition of ‘These Are The Days of Our Lives.’
The dance routines were high octane and sassy, prompting the enthralled audience to join in with rhythmic clapping. The seasoned backing band led by Zachary Flis that appeared fleetingly on the stage provided a burnished finish to each Queen number, displaying dazzling virtuosity and finesse. After the power ballad ‘We Are The Champions’ it was time for the curtain call. The raucous standing ovation was followed by a neon sign on the stage which read ‘Do You Want More…?’ Due to the unsurprisingly affirmative response, the cast rejoined for a spirited rendition of Queen’s Magnum Opus, ‘The Bohemian Rhapsody’ much to the delight of the adoring audience.
Featured Image: ATG Media