While we were planning out our summer, before such things as cancer surgery and deaths of close family members jumped on to our radar screen, Lorri asked if I was interested in seeing We Will Rock You at the 5th Avenue theater in Seattle. I believe my response was “Huh?” As a past season ticket holder, Lorri often gets early announcements and good deals on shows. She explained the premise of the show, and that it was based on the music of Queen. Sounded good, I was in.
Much has happened since that spring day. When we left the house at 12:00 for the afternoon performance, I could not think of a better way to unwind from the month’s festivities-cancer surgery, Lorri’s mom’s illness, death and funeral. I had few expectations except to listen to some music I loved with the woman I love, and somebody with whom I desperately wanted some alone time.
I knew little about the musical. It was written by British comedian Ron Elton, who also created “Mr. Bean,” and “The Young Ones.” The musical directors were Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor. The show includes all or part of 24 Queen songs. In 2011 “We Will Rock You” won the British equivalent of the Tony awards. It is touring four American cities this summer, including Seattle.
The story is predictable, though remarkably accurate, in its portrayal of a large corporation controlling media, advertising and consumable music pressuring the masses to conform to the ideal it is selling. Lead characters Galileo Figaro and Scaramouche eventually lead a band of non-conformists called Bohemians in a successful revolt against the oppressive rule of the Killer Queen and upload “Rock!!” to the internet and free kids from the pap that passes for music these days. Gosh, doesn’t sound like much of a fantasy to me.
The story is simple, sometimes funny, with it’s fair share of sexual innuendo, but honestly it didn’t do much for me. However it did offer a reasonable context for those wonderful Queen songs.One thing that always concerns me with these sorts of revivals of classic music of any kind is they will be interpreted, mangled, digested and spit out with little or no resemblance to that which they’re supposed to be celebrating. I can say without reservation the Queen songs were adapted with loving reverence for the originals. Killer Queen, Another One Bites the Dust, Hammer to Fall, Who Wants to Live Forever, and a host of other Queen hits were performed with brilliance.
Though they were backed by a superb band, the principals, Brian Justin Crum, Ruby Lewis, Jacqueline Arnold, P.J. Griffith, Ryan Knowles, Erica Peck, and Jared Zirilli, took their turn channeling the spirit of Freddie Mercury. I can say unreservedly, they did their very best and all the songs were performed with more than mere competence. They were great vocalists with considerable passion, and it is their performances that made the show most memorable to me.
It’s also the only show I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few, that closes with an encore. When the cast has gotten its applause, they ask to perform Bohemian Raphsody, which has been curiously absent and they give a fabulous send up performance in all its quirky glory. All that’s missing is Garth and Wayne head-baning. But that’s okay because the audience was doing a fabulous job of filling in.