Eileen Caiger Gray reviews We Will Rock You at Sheffield Lyceum (September 30th 2019)
Take the unique and fabulous Queen hits, weave them into a futuristic sci-fi melodrama with a bizarre storyline and flimsy, improbable characters, et voila in a Flash (Ah-Ah), Bob’s your uncle – you’ve got yourself a musical stage show!
The work may not be in the top ten of Ben Elton’s greatest hits and the original show was met with some disdain, but the music is so powerfully good and fans worldwide so keen to see it that it’s still going strong. This production is certainly not without its allure (though that does dwindle now and again). Along with the music, the biggest stars of the show are the musicians, the music makers behind the scenes – guitarists James Barber, Simon Croft, Neil Murray, drummer David Cotterell, director/ keyboarder Bob Broad and Zachary Flis. Who can resist the rousing rhythms, belting decibels and snaking, wailing guitars as they let loose on We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, It’s A Kind of Magic and twenty other great songs?
The show is big on visual spectacle, too. While infinite varieties of impressive costumes and choreography please, intrigue and impress, vast, colourful projected backdrops and bright lights keep us on the move, travelling from midnight blue starry, starry Van Gogh skies filled with twinkling, shooting stars to planet-scapes of barren wastes and futuristic sci-fi cities which carry us on into the Globalsoft realms of Killer Queen and Arch-Villain Khashoggi.
Since 2002, the future earth envisaged by Ben Elton as an i-planet may have already moved closer to reality. In his scary, brave new world, gone is the freedom of individuals to be different from one another and anyone who dares be creative is severely punished; gone are tangible artefacts such as musical instruments, all banned in favour of proscribed digital downloads. It’s a world in which micro-chipped, mindless consumers such as the Gaga girls are completely at the mercy of the marketeers of all things virtual and synthetic. Enter now the dreamers and underground rebels who must destroy that virtual world and bring back reality – mainly in the form of long banned, forgotten rock music. In the Bohemians’ quest for this Rhapsody, their destined saviour is Galileo Figaro (Ian McIntosh) along with his “chick” Scaramouche (played by Elena Skye who delivers a wonderful Need Somebody To Love).
Word plays, double entendres, mispronunciations and the silliness of the assorted characters create humour throughout. While melodramatic baddies, the Killer Queen (Jenny O’Leary) and cold-hearted torturer Khasshogi (Adam Strong) – like a lanky, posh-voiced, dark-clad Jeff Goldblum in shades – perpetrate tyrannical villainy and sing loud and long, a motley extravaganza of punk/steam-punk rebels meets at the graffiti-covered wall of the Heartbreak Hotel – a piece of real scenery in stark contrast to the projected other world. Though they all know the names of great music stars of the past, who they were exactly is forgotten. Thus Britney Spears is now a leather-clad black guy played with great style and stage presence by David Michael Johnson and Ozzy Osborne is a woman (Kate Lieper). The most endearing rebel is Michael McKell as long-haired, denim-clad Buddy (Holly), as laid back as a Johnny Depp Rolling Stone. His comedy goes down a treat.
In the end, of course, the freedom to be a creative, non-conforming individual is restored and live music lives on forever (hoorah!) Tagged on as a PS, Bohemian Rhapsody hits the airwaves, performed by the entire, energetically dancing, singing cast who ensure Freddie Mercury and the band are fittingly saluted, and the crowd leaves well pleased.
The show next visits Edinburgh, Newcastle, Derry and Dublin, then tours right through until July 2020. For further details visit www.queenonline.com