Book: Ben Elton
Music and Lyrics: Queen
Director: Ben Elton
It ran for 12 years in London’s West End, is written and directed by Ben Elton with music by legendary rock band Queen: We Will Rock You could not have a higher creative potential. The premise of the story, which seems even more relevant now than when first written, is simple. We are several centuries in the future and live music has been destroyed by bland TV talent shows. ‘An eternity of mindless distraction’, is Elton’s damning verdict on this state of affairs. In a world where live music is now illegal, the Bohemians seek to rediscover the true meaning of rock and roll guided by the sacred text.
The story is told through the music of Queen. The show is a reminder of how good the band’s songs are and what an amazing voice Freddie Mercury had. Amongst the show’s leads, the women’s voices are far stronger than the men’s and generally more suited to Queen’s music. Jenny O’Leary has a particularly powerful voice which she uses to great effect as the story’s villain, Killer Queen, commanding, controlling and threatening in turn. Understudy, Kate Leiper as Meat, derived from Meat Loaf, has an energetic presence and gives a powerful vocal performance as one of the counter-culture Bohemians. Elena Skye portraying Scaramouche is strong vocally but also deftly handles Elton’s witty, sarcastic dialogue as she banters with romantic counterpart Galileo. She has good comic timing and penetrating force as she undercuts Galileo’s macho posturing. Elton has great fun with Galileo who is an out of control conduit to dreamt memories of past music. His fractured memory causes him to talk in fragments of familiar lyrics which are enjoyable to identify. Undercutting is a favourite Elton technique and the sacred text is a great example of this. Its sacred words enshrine many, much loved, iconic musical lyrics but it also espouses the mysterious Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West.
As you would expect the script is very much set in Elton’s familiar left-wing territory but also, as is typical of him, he’s not afraid to criticise and poke fun at the very forces he believes in: one of his many strengths. The script has been updated to acknowledge music created after the original script was written and also has a brief nod to the now-familiar facemasks in a clever moment much appreciated by the audience. The script is full of ingenuity and humour, humour that Michael McKell, playing Sir Cliff Richard, titular leader of the Bohemians, seems very comfortable with – particularly with a running joke that in the wrong hands could become very tedious. McKell pleasingly reveals a touching vulnerability as his character develops.
There are some very strong creative ensemble moments but if Broadway energy is the gold standard some ensemble scenes have a Monday night touring energy about them and lack snap and edge. As wonderful as the music is, not all songs move the show along and a couple feel like fillers that are not exploited to their fullest. If a number isn’t developing plot or character then the choreography needs to be special in its own right and that is not always the case.
The staging of the show is not as spectacular as the original West End production but the multi-level stage and huge video screens combine well to create all the different environments needed to set the scenes. The see-through video screen cleverly reveals the live band at various points in the show. The band, who are the engine of the show, are never less than excellent.
We Will Rock You is placed firmly in the Jukebox Musical genre but without a doubt, this is a high-class Jukebox Musical and despite its simplistic plot it is full of most excellent humour.
Runs Until 7 May 2022 and on tour