We Will Rock You opened tonight at The Playhouse Theatre for its Edinburgh run (Monday 7th to Saturday 12th October) and as expected, fans of the musical and the music of “Queen” came out in force to fill the theatre.
I have to admit that despite being a huge fan of the music of Queen, this is one show that I have not seen until now, and perhaps that is because for me, nothing will ever come close to the original songs, particularly hearing them in a “Juke-box-musical” stage show format. Curiosity has got the better of me though; just what, since its opening performance in 2002 has made this show one of the global hits of musical theatre with millions of people around the world not only going to the show, but often coming for more? Well to answer my last question, I need to look at the main things here that make up the show.
This show is of course a marriage of Queen’s music and the writing of Ben Elton, and while the latter has written some fine works over the years, it is fair to say that it is not the script or the plot that is the attraction here. The script is, as with all too many shows in this format, little more than a connection of lines to link songs together, and the plot that takes us into a world some 300 years in the future (from its original show date) where a global corporation tells everyone what music to listen to, how to dress, how to even think is not even paper thin, it has not achieved that level of complexity.
The answer to that question is of course the classic, and timeless music of Queen, and it is obvious at this show just how much the band’s music and these songs in the show are simply loved by so many people in the audience, and even leaving some great tracks from Queen albums over the years out of this show, the massive hits that are here make this show a Queen “Rock Anthem” checklist with over 20 songs in the show including “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Radio Ga Ga”, “Somebody to Love”, “Don’t Stop Me Now” and of course “We Will Rock You”. Our script and plot also in a not too subtle fashion lead us to only one possible encore song here.
We Will Rock You obviously has great songs, but is it a great musical? Yes and no is the answer here and there is an obvious limit to just how far the costumes, the dance routines (some of which need tightening up) and the impressive stage tech with banks of graphic screens, even with the aid of a tight live band (that we only see for a few moments behind one of the screens) can cover the plot here and the many weak attempts at updating this story line to make it more contemporary. This show is now 17 years old, and it is showing its age in many visual areas. Also it has suffered the fate of all too many stories that look towards the future, and that is that its envisioned future has caught up with it already. This show, with its parody collection of “mythical rock n roll stars” is already out of its time both past and future and has little to say about the present. The only timeless quality here is the music of Queen. Taking songs that have never been designed to fit a script and forcing them somehow to form a cohesive narrative is always going to be a problem and, as always with this type of show, some songs adapt well to their new format and others suffer badly.
From a musical theatre perspective, this show tonight has many high points and more than a few low points, but there are some fine performances in here, and strangely, many of them go to the villains of this story - Killer Queen (Jennifer O'Leary) and Khashoggi. (Adam Strong). Together Jennifer and Adam have a stage presence that allows them to steal most of Act 1 from our leading hero, Galileo Figaro played by Ian McIntosh. Galileo is an odd lead character here because he simply is not as interesting as many others in this show, and so much of the relationship between him and his “rock-chick” Scaramouche (Elena Skye) is written in favour of Scaramouche. In a show that is so much about finding your own inner self and unique identity, it was more than a bit curious that Scaramouche would give up her unique clothing identity to become just another of “The Bohemians”. Keeping that unique visual identity would have added so much to her character and the core ethos of this story line.
From a musical performance viewpoint, Ian McIntosh does not seem to get many of the songs that suit his vocals and delivery style best until well into Act 2, but when he gets them he does make the most of them.
Our collection of “Bohemian” misfits are amusing at times with visual parodies on many of rock music’s icons. There is an interesting take with Brit (David Michael Johnson) and Michael McKell as Buddy steals whatever scenes he is in.
This show is a “comedy musical” and there are some very good one-liners here, but ultimately this is not “Killer Queen” but “Pantomime Queen”. There is nothing wrong with that to be honest, pantomime is its own art form, and the audience at this show obviously loved every minute of this “Pantomime Queen”.
Review by Tom King