Finding Rhapsody. A Review of We Will Rock You.
When did you first hear Queen? Like, really get into them. For me, it was 1992 when Wayne’s World came out. The epic car scene when Wayne and co rock out to Bohemian Rhapsody blew my little eight-year-old mind.
WTF did “scaramouche” mean? How did they manage to mix piano and opera peaks with guitar riffs and head banging? The performance from the guys in the Mirth Mobile proved they loved the song hard. I wanted to know that joy.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m drinking a neon green Bohemian cocktail waiting to see We Will Rock You (WWRY), the mega-hit Queen/Ben Elton collaboration my wingwoman for the night has seen FIVE times already. That – and the fact over 16 million people in 28 countries have seen the show – has me anticipating an awesome evening ahead.
Set in the year 2350, WWRY gives us a glimpse into a future where live music is banned and the world lives on a diet of synthesized pop. Instruments are illegal, song writing is forbidden: rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Or is it? Two outcasts, Galileo Figaro (a.k.a. The Dreamer) and Scaramouche (a.k.a. Scary Bush), escape the digital dystopia and join a gang of underground rebels on a mission to restore bohemian rhapsody. On this most righteous quest they must dodge the clutches of the evil Killer Queen and her mob of minions to find a sacred axe that will unleash the power of rock. All this and 24 Queen classics in just under 2½ hours.
I’m hooked as soon as the lights go down inside the theatre. A commanding voice tells us to turn off our phones, to “Live in the moment. Forget the outside world.” My wingwoman barely finishes telling me to stop looking at the giant disco balls flanking the stage when the drum/synth intro of Radio Ga Ga starts to play. Lasers and strobe lights break through the darkness and out come the Ga Ga Kids, the cookie-cutter teens of the future.
The chipper ensemble of blonde Ga Ga Guys remind me of an 80s Flash Gordon, the complete opposite of Galileo Figaro (Gareth Keegan, West Side Story) whose first song, I Want to Break Free, reveals the angst of living a soulless life. He’s also tormented by voices that make him blurt out song lyrics willy-nilly, a comical nod to some of music’s best-known tunes.
Our male protagonist Galileo is the one who prophesizes that “A bright, bright star will lead the way”, but it’s the leading ladies who stand out as the stars of the show for me. Erin Clare (Phantom of the Opera) as Scaramouche is an absolute pocket rocket, fully embracing her role as a rough and ready heroine and belting out Queen like a rock goddess. Her rendition of Somebody to Love is power ballad perfection.
Casey Donovan (The Sapphires) also owns her character of Killer Queen, radiating the energy of a villain who is “all bad” with such potency I found myself cringing at times. Her cartoonish theatrics and ability to throw in a good dash of sass drew an uncanny likeness to Ursula the Sea Witch. Donovan’s take on Fat Bottomed Girls and Another One Bites the Dust were some of the musical highlights of the night.
Speaking of highlights, we need to talk about the Bohemians. I love how Ben Elton has drawn on music icons to create these rebel characters and the costumes are fab; think a dude wearing a cone bra called Madonna and a purple-cloaked Prince. Their leader may be Buddy Holly (played by gravelly Aussie rocker, Brian Mannix) but there’s no doubt hellcat Ozzy Osbourne (a.k.a. Oz a.k.a. Jaz Flowers) and the buff Britney Spears (a.k.a. Brit a.k.a. Thern Reynolds) dominate in their supporting roles. Flowers absolutely nails the raw emotion of No One But You when the group pays tribute to rock heroes who died too young.
The WWRY script has been spruced up since its London opening in 2002 and is full of modern pop-culture references, local flavour and music puns aplenty. If you don’t laugh out loud at “vi-day-o tappy”, “Scary Bush” and “Britney Spears died to save us” you might need a few more Bohemian cocktails. Yes, it’s full of cheese and dad jokes and some not-to-smooth segues but as you sit in stunned amazement at the laser beams shooting out of Freddie Mercury’s eyes you need to remember – it’s a musical. Sit back and enjoy the magic that is Queen.
Killer lighting. Killer characters. Killer songs. I found my rhapsody.
We Will Rock You is playing in Melbourne from August 28.
Erin was a guest of We Will Rock You