Queen fans are used to the showmanship and outlandish storytelling of their favourite group so it’s no wonder that, an astonishing 20 years since it premiered, they’re still turning out in their thousands to watch the hit musical We Will Rock You.
The show, which features 24 of the band’s most memorable hits, is currently on an anniversary tour and opened last night to wild applause and much (Radio Ga Ga) hand-clapping at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.
Ben Elton, who wrote the book and directed the original West End production, is back at the helm with what appears to be a considerable reboot.
He’s certainly changed the direction of the show from my last viewing and it’s all the better for it.
Is it my imagination or has WWRY found its funny bone? Where once it was, dare I say, a bit pretentious, now the show is packed with terrific gags that ensure no-one takes the juke box musical too seriously.
The show Must Go On and Elton, a top notch comic and writer, has refreshed the book of this wacky futuristic show with hilarious up-to-date gags (the Covid quip!) and musical references.
It’s staggering how prescient the plot was when first debuting back in 2002.
Throughout the early years of Queen the band, led by the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, prided themselves in using traditional instruments to make music and not electronic synthesizers.
But they could see the way the wind was blowing with computers and electronic music becoming increasingly dominant.
Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor worked with Ben Elton to come up with a musical set in the future where kids are brainwashed into staring at screens all day, a giant electronics corporation rules the dystopian planet and individualism is crushed.
But among the chaos and conformity there is a man, a dreamer, whose head is filled with the lyrics to songs, and who is the musical messiah who will save civilisation. All he has to do is find a magical axe (guitar to you and me).
It’s barking mad – Arthurian legend mixed with Star Wars – and it was universally panned by theatre critics when it premiered in 2002.
But what the hell do we know? It may have been a critical flop but more than 20 million fans around the globe have loved it and it has been playing to full houses ever since. WWRY is nothing short of a phenomenon.
What makes it is, of course, the musical numbers, but a lot of the success is down to casting.
There are no shrinking violets lurking in the ensemble of this megawatt production.
Ian McIntosh as the chosen one, Galileo, Elena Skye as his rock chic Scaramouche, Jenny O’Leary as a belting Killer Queen, and Adam Strong as the evil Khashoggi, have powerhouse vocals that Mercury would have adored.
Their treatment of Queen’s hit songs is full-on spectacle, a mix of high camp, opera and raunchy rock.
And while they belt out Fat Bottomed Girls, We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, Radio Ga Ga, I Want It All and more, Michael McKell as Cliff (SIR Cliff!) is a hoot delivering Ben Elton’s gags with consummate ease – not to mention giving a moving rendition of These Are The Days of Our Lives.
He opens the show holding a video tape in his hands. No-one in this joyless future world knows that this strange vid-eo tap-e is or what it does and, indeed, a person sitting behind me last night wondered the same thing. I gave a little sob.
Ben Elton reminds the audience that the singers and the band (a BIG shout out to James Barber, Simon Croft, Neil Murray, Dave Cotterell and Zach Flis) are performing live and they don’t want the audience joining in but, by god, it was hard to stay schtum through the best anthem rock ever written.
An electrifying extravaganza.
WeWill Rock You plays at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday, May 7.