I admit it sweetie darlings; I’m a die-hard Queen fan. I saw them live at Sun City on one of the nights when Freddie Mercury was actually able to sing. I attend all their tribute shows. I’m a fan of Joseph Clark and I adored Queen at the Opera. I love tribute bands almost as much as the originals, especially if they’re good. Having made this proviso I will tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed We Will Rock You, on at Joburg’s Civic Theatre until mid-July.
It is billed as one of the “biggest musicals” ever staged in South Africa and continues to play to sold-out houses in London – it recently celebrated the distinction of becoming the longest-running musical ever to play at the Dominion, one of the West End’s largest theatres. In addition to an ongoing Spanish-language touring production in Spain, it also continues to break box office records in Germany, where it is the number one grossing musical of all time. Globally, more than five million people have now seen the show.
We Will Rock You, for those that might not know, takes the music and lyrics of the band Queen and gets popular British writer Ben Elton to script a sort of science fiction futuristic account featuring a company called “Global Soft”. This corporate giant has created a world where everyone is a cyber-clone. Individuality is seen as a virus that threatens to destroy Global Soft’s market domination.
This tyrannical regime, run by the Killer Queen – an evil dominatrix (complete with a whole wardrobe of dominatrix costumes to die for) – uses pretty police with open shirts to control rebel teenagers, or “Bohemians”, and to destroy their artistic creativity. The Bohemians are meanwhile awaiting their Messiah, the “Dreamer” who will remember the music of the past and will also locate the musical instruments that were hidden away by the rock band Queen (who apparently anticipated the death of Rock and with it the enslavement of the world’s youth).
Whew! Will the Killer Queen succeed in achieving world domination or will the Dreamer, Galileo, with his “bad-ass” girl, Scaramouche, save Rock and the world’s youth from her evil corporate plans? The plot is not the greatest and most of the comedy is to be found in the South African one-line gags which are appreciated more for their local flavour than for any innate humour. Those who enjoy a certain degree of campness may be delighted with some other lines as well; we have Scaramouche saying “They think I’m a lesbian because I don’t wear pastels”.
Francis Lliam is Galileo; he looks very good in a pair of jeans and has an attractive voice but is often overshadowed by the band. Helen Burger plays Scaramouche, with great relish and irony; she brings much-needed humour to the show. Vicky Sampson is a natural born soul singer, and she dominates the stage with her zesty performance as the Killer Queen, but her acting leaves a great deal to be desired. Neels Clasen, the Killer Queen’s side kick, is wonderful in his sunglassed role as Khashoggi, the head of the secret police. Murray Todd is also good as the cheeky, cocky guy who finds the Dreamer, as is his sexy girlfriend Oz, played by Talia Kodesh. But it is Malcolm Terrey, as Pop, the wise old bird who has seen, done and smoked it all, who steals the show for me. He is fabulous.
As I have mentioned, there seems to be a problem with the balance between the lead singer particularly, and the band, and there were some other ongoing technical audio problems. Not good for a show dominated by the music of Queen.
There is a large LCD screen in scenes involving Global Soft onto which video clips are projected. These are, for the most part, interesting and add a great deal of charm to the show. I sometimes felt that more could have been done with them, but perhaps this bland effect was meant to highlight the dullness of life when individuality is crushed.
The sets were grand and effective. I particularly liked the lighting on the narrow scaffolding. The costumes were delightful and added much to the camp quality of the entertainment. (Watch out for the Cliff Richard character in particular – bound to stir a smile.) Bizarrely, while there are thirty-two Queen numbers in the show, we never get to hear We Are The Champions.
We Will Rock You has great appeal for Queen fans, although it does have weaknesses as a musical. Being a fan, I of course enjoyed myself during the performance and was hugely entertained.
We Will Rock You is on at the Civic until the 15th of July, in Cape Town at the Artscape theatre from the 26th of July to the 13th of August, and at the Playhouse in Durban in October. Book at Computicket.