REVIEW: We will rock you

Ben Elton, writer-director of We Will Rock You at the Grand Opera House in York

WE Will Rock You is “intriguing, thought-provoking, painfully romantic, brutally cynical, and both sad and hilarious,” says Ben Elton, futuristic writer-director of “rock theatrical” Queen.

It’s also probably the dumbest musical you’ll ever see. Even after a new acquaintance as when the flamboyant show visited Leeds Grand Theater in 2011, the year it won Most Popular Show at the Olivier Awards.

Thirty years after Freddie Mercury passed away at 45 – “too handsome, too wild,” as Elton puts it in his script – Queen still reigns supreme. On press night, there were no seats available, which set the box office pattern for the busy week ahead.

For his 20th anniversary touring production, Elton is back at the helm as director, adding changes and updates here and there to a plot that has moved from “science fiction to science fact” and is “more relevant than ever,” in the judgment of Queen guitarist Brian May.

A plea recorded by Elton before the show to “live the crazy moment” (by putting away cell phones) and two Covid references go down particularly well, while Planet Earth’s name change from Planet Mall to iPlanet at the internet age Gaga.

Cleverly, music adviser May had suggested, “The show should operate within a theatrical context and retain rock, while incorporating the spectacle, uniqueness and humor embodied by Queen.”

This prompted Elton to consider how “legendary rock the music should have a legendary context” as he told tales from King Arthur to The Terminator: “heroic myths in which brave individuals take on the vast monolithic force of evil systems”.

Elton’s crazy tale is duly set in a distant, dystopian, globalized future where the inhabitants of iPlanet dress and think identically and exist in a haze of brain-dead cyberspace, like the students of Gaga High School. encouraged to spend day after day on the online drip.

Rock music is banned, prompting a rebellious cluster, the tartan and leather-clad Bohemians, to fight against the all-powerful Global Soft Corporation, its pantomime-villainous boss, the Killer Queen (Jenny O’Leary) and her man of hand, Khashoggi (Adam Strong), the Malvolio party animal in the play.

Two school outsiders, dreamy boy Galileo Figaro (Ian McKintosh) and bad ass girl Scaramouche (Elena Skye), want to break free from all that dark conformism, join the bohemian cause to restore freedom of expression and individuality (except for the audience, who are asked to refrain from singing unless instructed).

We Will Rock You builds this Orwellian story around a framework of out-of-the-box hits, like the musical vehicle Madness, Our House. In other words, it applies a background process, songs first, story second, as satirical comedian Elton sticks his tongue firmly in Queen’s already sassy cheek.

Combining pamphlet and harpoon, it revels in an ancient plot that sends Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Sir Cliff Richard, Meat Loaf and corporate control of pop, throwing romance and sexual innuendo, all while finding endless routes/excuses to sing another one. of these Queen monoliths: 24 in total.

May’s musical adviser, Queen drummer Roger Taylor, defined the musical as silly, funny but making “lots of serious points”. That’s true, but Elton’s show rightly refuses to take itself seriously when it makes these points.

Its dialogue is deliberately as clunky as a B-movie script and its conniving, demystifying humor, full of jokes and references to Queen and rock history bounces off its characters, just as it does in Blackadder, The Young. Ones and Upstart Crow.

Set design by Tim Blazdell and video production by Stufish Entertainment Architects & Willie Williams bring state-of-the-art pizzazz to the Queen’s hit parade, while evoking the spirit of Flash Gordon and Return To The Forbidden Planet, aided by Kentaur’s costume and wig designs.

Zachary Flis’ band on the mezzanine level savor the mock operatic drama and sheer diversity of Queen’s songbook, sung spectacularly by Elton’s company of colorful characters, as much in the tradition of Meat Loaf than Mercury.

No one is afraid to throw the kitchen sink into shamelessly over-the-top performances, especially O’Leary’s Killer Queen and David Michael Johnson’s Brit, or being hammy in the case of Strong’s Khashoggi.

Cliff, Michael McKell’s motorcyclist, is the scene stealer; McIntosh’s Freddie and dreamy combination of gorgeous voice and naivety are a joy throughout and Skye’s gothic deathly attitude as Scaramouche is a killer.

In the end, as silly and funny as it may be, We Will Rock You is about those oh-so-familiar songs brought to life by a myriad of jaw-dropping vocals. Much better done this way than in another tribute show.

PS Make sure you stick around for the ending, not the fake ending, to experience the fandango of a finale.

To participate in the ticket rush: call 0844 871 7615 or book online at

About Madeline J. Carter

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