REVIEW: Queen is King in ‘We Will Rock You’
Emulating the deafening soundscape of what I assume it’s like to have attended a Queen concert, We Will Rock You is right away loud. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does–quite literally–set the tone for what’s about to transpire for the next two hours: a complete assault on the senses.
Visually, a lot is going on. It’s a fully-realized dystopian techno future complete with latex bodysuits, Star Wars-grunge sets, and copious use of video projections to add to the spectacle. Tom Rogers’ set feels as though no expense is spared to craft this futuristic i-Planet of which this jukebox musical takes place. It’s what you want when tickets are all upwards of ₱2500–a sensorial experience that won’t be too easy to forget.
It’s a jukebox musical of Queen songs, but the premise is so out there (story and script by Ben Elton), and encased in this incredibly busy set, that songs and staging (direction and choreography by Nick Winston) are equal in pulling at your attention.
It’s set in a future where people have been deprogrammed from knowing and performing live music and it’s up to a small rebel group–Bohemians–to find an old relic–an electric guitar–and unleash the long-lost Rhapsody. If one is asking why would a jukebox musical of Queen songs be about that, Ben Elton is asking: why not?
It opens strong with one of its first songs ‘Radio Ga Ga’ reworked as an anthem for brainwashed kids who only need the internet to feed their souls. ‘Somebody to Love’ is sung by an ‘anomalous’ girl that doesn’t think like everyone else, so is ‘Under Pressure,’ with the male lead, about how they’re about to break out to seek a so-far mythical musical instrument to make sense of why they don’t behave like everyone else.
The musical is smart to pare down the at-times rambunctious staging the bigger the Queen hit. ‘No-One But You’ is a lament of the musicians who have come and gone, the eponymous ‘We Will Rock You’ is a chant towards the denouement, and ‘We Are the Champions’ is a song of triumph after the defeat of the villain.
If you came for Queen, you’ll stay for Queen–that’s the real draw of this musical. The classics you know are all accounted for, the songs you might not recognize, you’ll gain appreciation for. If you weren’t a Queen fan before walking into the theater, you’ll come out one for sure because it’s impossible not to gain appreciation for the theatricality and the storytelling in their music.
In the well-oiled machine that is this musical, it’s the narrative that was the glitch. The first act was a solid set-up of the high-octane premise, copiously peppered with broad comedy that was easy to enjoy. The second act was all of a sudden chock-full of innuendo spurred by a hamfisted romantic subplot, awkward for the lack of chemistry between the leads. It was off-putting enough that the rest of the second act seemed to teeter that line between campy and cringe, with only Queen to keep it from toppling right over the edge.
Despite its genre and hitting necessary tropes of said genre–enough that one may recall PETA’s 3 Stars and a Sun or Ako si Josephine–it doesn’t feel as though the suppression of rock music was a metaphor for suppression. Or that the ultimate control of the AI overlord a metaphor for post-capitalist corporate control. It’s more a low-stakes foray into an alternate Footloose-ian universe where a Hero is destined to find a missing electric guitar so him and his mates can play the music they want.
Tickets: Php 2,539.20 - Php 6,348.00 Show Dates: October 28, 2022 - November 20, 2022 Venue: Samsung Performing Arts Theater Running Time: approx. 2 hours and 30 mins (w/ 20 minute intermission) Credits: Queen (Music and Lyrics), Ben Elton (Story and Script), Nick Winston (Director and Choreographer), Stuart Glover (Producer), Maddy Mutch (Producer), Joe Brown (General Manager & Associate Producer), Stuart Morley (Music Consultant), Libby Watts (Assistant Choreographer), Ryan-Lee Seager (Associate Director / Choreographer), Video Designer (Douglas O’Connell), Ben Harrison (Sound Designer), Ben Cracknell (Lighting Designer), Sarah Mercade (Costume Designer), Tom Rogers (Set Designer), Mark Crossland (Musical Supervisor) Cast: Craig Urbani, Danelle Cronje, Londiwe Dhlomo, Nicolette Fernandes, Richard Gau, Stuart Brown, Tiaan Rautenbach, Adrienne Theron, Alexandra Girard, Allen Chambers, Ashleigh Butcher, Claire Roswell, Dirk Joubert, Hannah Marshall, Kenneth Meyer, Kent Jeycocke, Michael Fullard, Nadine Grobbelaar, Nathan Muller, Robyn Ivey, Sibusiso Mxosana, Siya Makakane, Tania Mteto, Tannah Levick, Thami Njoko, Tshepo Ncokoane, Zolani Shangase Company: GMG Productions