Tease and gel your hair into a heavy metal mullet, slap some glitter on those cheeks and traipse on down in your platform shoes to the Hippodrome in Baltimore to catch the North American premiere of the high tech, high energy, rock-high inducing Queen tribute musical, We Will Rock You.
Twenty-five of Queen’s hits are theatricalized by an on-fire cast and a righteous 10-piece rock band, giving you the intense flavor of both a stadium rock concert and a Broadway musical. Maybe a bit more of the former, since the opening night crowd applauded the Queen crest adorning the curtain, lustily sang most of the songs along with the actors, waved their hands in the air and swayed to the music—stopping just shy of holding lighters aloft and screaming “Freebird.”
Yes, it’s a jukebox musical, but a fun one that doesn’t take itself too seriously and avoids the cookie-cutter reverence that plague other staged homages to music styles like Motown and ‘50s-‘60s rock and roll pioneers. Think of Mamma Mia! with less annoying music or Rock of Ages with a Rocky Horror-ish plot.
British comedian Ben Elton (veteran writer of British TV series’ “The Young Ones,” “Blackadder” and “Mr. Bean”) not only directs, but wrote the story and the book, which is a tongue-in-cheek send up of preposterous operetta and sci-fi fantasy plots.
Futuristic fantasy seems well-suited for Queen, the seminal 1970s-‘90s British quartet who revolutionized arena and performance rock with their space-age look, bombastic guitar god sound and spotless harmonies. The band consisted of Freddie Mercury (who died of AIDS-related illness in 1991) on lead vocals and piano, Brian May (guitar, vocals), John Deacon (bass guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums, vocals).
Praise be that We Will Rock You contains no Queen impersonators. Instead, Mr. Elton concocts an affably goofy plot about a future world dominated by mega-corporation GlobalSoft, under the leadership of the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold, a-swagger with poise and evil attitude, especially in her big booty-positive rendition of “Fat Bottomed Girls” )—a former video game avatar who uploaded herself to fame and fortune—and her ice-blond henchman Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith, as sleek and lethal as a James Bond baddie).
Killer Queen and her minions control the minds, and more importantly, the listening habits of everyone on the planet, especially the young’uns who perkily digest a steady diet of manufactured pop pabulum and controlled social media—a scene set to “Radio Ga Ga,” an infectious and satiric ode to corporate, auto-tuned dreck. 3-D computer projections of marching droids, video games, and computer circuitry capture this mass-produced cyberland.
However, hope glimmers in the guide of Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum, powerful as the brooding, confused, unlikely hero), a visionary who has fragments of rock lyrics stuck in his head. A “poor boy from a poor family,” Galileo meets fellow outcast Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis, whose voice features a haunting tremolo), a riot grrrl with a Ms. magazine attitude. On the lam from Khashoggi, they encounter the Bohemians, an underground rebel youth mob who worship artifacts of rock—cassette tapes, concert posters, and piecemeal lore about bands and musical legends.
Dressed like a mash up of Cyndi Lauper, the Stones in their “Rock and Roll Circus” period, the Village People, the Grateful Dead and Siouxie and the Banshees, the Bohemians are a colorful and largely corseted lot. Named after superstars, they seem free of gender roles, as Ozzie Osborne (the roof-raising Erica Peck) is a gal with Janis Joplin pipes clad in a merry widow and tutu; and men in skirts are named Brittney Spears, Katy Perry and the kung-fu fighting Brit (Jared Zirilli, riotous as a stud with a healthy sense of self), who all perform “I Want It All” with rock satyr splendor.
We Will Rock You
Closes October 20, 2013
The Hippodrome Theatre
12 North Eutaw Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
2 hours, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25 – $95
Details and Tickets
The cast gives heft and soul to Queen’s anthology, reining in the classic Broadway belting for raucous, raw vocals. They are believable as rock performers and while the choreography is not terribly flashy, it does adeptly capture the percussive rhythms and abandon of punk, hip-hop and rock-style dancing.
What’s striking about We Will Rock You is how it showcases the diversity of Queen’s music, which may have been branded catchy “power rock,” but actually incorporates heavy metal, progressive rock, British music hall, ragtime, rockabilly, and ballads. Not to mention, opera—as demonstrated by the show’s potent closing number, the killer hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which had the crowd on its feet, stomping and clapping and yelling for more. All that was missing was Freddie.
We Will Rock You . Music and lyrics by Queen . Story, script and direction by Ben Elton . Produced by Broadway Across America at The Hippodrome Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.