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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
We Will Rock You
by Lizzie Loveridge

She's a Killer Queen
Gunpowder, gelatine
Dynamite with a laserbeam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
-- Lyrics to the song "Killer Queen"

 We Will Rock You
Ensemble in Ga Ga graduation number
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
I don't know why the press send theatre critics to rock musicals. You can predict, almost with certainty, that they will hate them. I hadn't read any reviews before seeing the new hi-tech musical We Will Rock You by Ben Elton with the music of rock legend, Queen but everywhere, people who had, were telling me how bad the reviews were. Having seen it, is this justified? No, not at all. The chief cause of complaint seems to be the preposterous plot. It seems that some of the critics wanted a biographic musical telling Freddie Mercury's story. What We Will Rock You does, is to fit existing Queen music and lyrics into a fantasy storyline. This is presumably what the many fans of Queen wanted -- to hear the music intact, non interfered with and using the original orchestration. In any case, Ben Elton's plot for We Will Rock You is no more ridiculous that those of Gilbert and Sullivan.

In the future, Earth, now renamed Planet Mall, has banned live rock music and destroyed musical instruments. An ageing rocker, Pop (Nigel Planer) sets the scene. Manufactured boy bands and girl bands play their Ga Ga music. Corporate giant Globalsoft rules the world under the leadership of Killer Queen (Sharon D Clarke) and her chief henchman Khashoggi (Alexander Hanson). Galileo Figaro (Tony Vincent) a young visionary, "He's just a poor boy from a poor family" has strange dreams featuring fragments of rock lyrics and meets up with the rebellious punk girl, Scaramouche (Hannah Jane Fox). Together they discover the rebel kids who have gone underground, chased by the cyber police. Known collectively as the Bohemians, individually they are named after rock legends, but some with a sex name change, blondie Meat loaf (Kerry Ellis), corsetted Prince (Cameron Jack), muscle man Britney (Nigel Clauzel), and Macca (Giles New). With the help of Pop, Galileo and Scaramouche dicover the hiding place of the planet's last electric guitar, rock is reborn and Globalsoft crashes.

All Queen's greatest hits are there, sung by the cast who are supported by a live ten piece band. The music was then, and is now, middle of the road, but essentially tuneful and rousing, rock ballads. From "We are the Champions" to "These Are the Days of Our Lives", to "Only the Good Die Young" -- these are songs which you can leave the theatre singing. Whilst Ben Elton's storyline may not fall into the entirely credible category he is not afraid to send himself up. He wittily sprinkles the script with song titles from the 1960s and 70s which have come to Galileo in a dream. "Who are you?" they ask. "I am a Walrus. I wanna break free." If the Bohemians are caught by the Globalsoft borg police they are brainwashed so that the only tune they can sing is, "Oh I do want to be beside the Seaside", not a Queen number! Whilst Arlene Phillips' choreography is not as imaginative as Bob Fosse, the numbers meld well into the show and do not disappoint.

We Will Rock You has cost 7 million. Specially made LED screens have been imported from Hong Kong to give the impressive background graphics. In the first scene armies of uniform computer generated people with Ga Ga logos, like crash dummies, march towards us behind the classical columns of the graduation ceremony for the Ga Ga students as they sing "Radio Ga Ga". As Galileo and Scaramouche find the Bohemians underground, the set is an impressive derelict London Underground station. Tthe Bohemians are individually dressed as ragged versions of rockers, Adam Ant, Boy George, Rod Stewart, Marilyn, Madonna, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. The costumes are creative and wouldn't disgrace a Vivien Westwood show. By contrast the Ga Ga's are all identical pastels and the police Terminator clones. Killer Queen's Globalsoft board room table rises from the stage and swings out over the auditorium for the power hit "Killer Queen". When the Bohemians are reprogrammed, the backdrop is an old space invaders game, the music "Another One Bites the Dust". I particularly liked a silhouetted version of the Globalsoft workers like 1930s bathing beauties. There are lighting tricks, spilling into the auditorium with extra bright flashes, the lighting designer taking his cue from the exciting lighting of pop concerts.

The performances are uniformly good. Sharon Clarke as Killer Queen has a huge voice and an equally large presence, her sidekick is peroxide, slick suited, leather gloved, sunglassed Alexander Hanson. The big discovery is Nashville's Tony Vincent, a beautiful strong voice and good stage presence as the appealing, dreaming boy, Galileo. Hannah Jane Fox, edgy, punky, feminist "Don't call me chick!" as Scaramouche the girl who hates to wear pastels is fresh from starring in Taboo, Boy George's musical. I liked Kerry Ellis (Eliza's stand in at My Fair Lady who went on more than she should have) as Meat Loaf, heavy metal and gutsy singing and her friend Britney, Nigel Clauzel looking like one of the inhabitants of Muscle Beach with a strong deep voice.

If you like Queen, and this comes from someone who wouldn't count herself a fan, you will love We Will Rock You. After a curtain call, the question is asked, projected in writing, Do you want Bohemian Rhapsody?. Up to then, we have only seen a scratched fragment of the 1970s Queen video. The answer was deafening.

We Will Rock You
Story and script by Ben Elton
Directed by Christopher Renshaw
Music and Lyrics: Queen

Production Design: Mark Fisher
Costume Designer: Tim Goodchild
Video directors: Mark Fisher and Willie Williams
Musical Staging and Choreography: Arlene Phillips
Starring: Nigel Planer, Hannah Jane Fox, Tony Vincent
With:Alexander Hanson, Sharon D Clarke, Nigel Clauzel, Kerry Ellis, Sam Archer, Giorgia Barbieri, Luke Baxter, Mazz Murphy, Nick Crossley, Alistair David, Andrew Derbyshire, Lucie Fentum, Amy Field, Taira Foo, Amanda Harrison, Dalh Haynes, Cameron Jack, Jenna Lee-James, Chris Lennon, Giles New, Zak Nemorin, Laetitia Ray, Richard Roe, Golda Rosheuvel, Nicola Stuart, Leon Webster, Bekki Carpenter, Mark Marson, Robert Ricks, Tanya Robb, Phong Truong, Anna Woodside.
Lighting Designer: Willie Williams
Sound Designer: Bobby Aitken
Vocal Harmony Arrangements: Brian May, Mike Dixon
Orchestrator: Steve Sidwell
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Running time: Two hours forty five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7413 1165
Booking to 17th August 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th May 2002 performance at the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road, London W1 (Tube Station: Tottenham Court Road)
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