The first North American tour of We Will Rock You, playing tonight through Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, as part of the Broadway Series South and North Carolina Theatre‘s series, puts a fresh, new — and often very, very loud — spin on approximately two dozen of the legendary British super-group Queen’s greatest hits. Unfortunately, Ben Elton’s plot is not Musical Theater Hall of Fame material. The sometimes silly storyline unspools in a dystopian future in which “Radio GaGa” becomes “Internet GaGa.” It is a ruled by a tyrannical corporate colossus not so subtlely called “Globalsoft,” (wink wink, nudge nudge), which is led by a power-mad Killer Queen (a sassy Saccha Dennis, subbing for Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her sinister blond henchman Khashoggi (played by P.J. Griffith as a creep’s creep).
Rock and roll is proscribed, North Korean style; and “Bohemians,” such as the freethinkers and nonconformists Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum) and his feisty female counterpart, whom he dubs Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) as a ham-handed reference to a lyric in Queen’s signature song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” are Enemies of the State. They are hunted down and subjected to electroshock therapy until they have minds of mush — all the better to be mindless drones and worker bees in the Globalsoft hive presided over by Killer Queen, who fervently believes that rock music incites its listeners to rebellion. Therefore, rock and all memories and artifacts of its past glories are banished from Killer Queen’s Brave New World of automatons marching in lockstep to Globalsoft’s tune.
The script for this highly successful 2002 West End musical — still playing at the Dominion Theatre in London and produced on tour by Queen Theatrical Productions, Tribeca Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Entertainment, and NETworks Presentations of Columbia, MD — starts off silly and gets sillier. It is chock-full characters named for rock stars, past and present (wink wink, nudge nudge) — brainwashed characters who unconsciously mouth lines from the chart-toppers of the last 50 years or so — which is funny at first, but soon loses its satirical snap. So, it is a good thing that the show’s stars sparkle so brightly, and belt out Queen’s hits with brio.
Brian Justin Crum is Da Bomb as the inadvertently iconoclastic Galileo, who hears voices in his head warbling Golden Oldies and urging him to embark on a dangerous cross-country quest that leads him to shrines of rock and roll from his native Hinterlands to Las Vegas and, ultimately, Graceland. Crum channels his inner Freddie Mercury in dynamic duets with Ruby Lewis on “I Want to Break Free,” “Under Pressure,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Who Wants to Live Forever,” and “Hammer to Fall.” Crum’s high-octane lead vocals on “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” were a highlight of the show. But Lewis out-sang him, especially with her crowd-pleasing solo on “Somebody to Love.”
Despite some body-mic difficulties, understudy Saccha Dennis truly was a Killer Queen when she belted out her signature song, “Play the Game,” “Now I’m Here,” “A Kind of Magic,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” Comic cameos by the actors and actresses who played characters with familar rock-star names — Ryan Knowles as Buddy (Holly), Erica Peck as Oz(zy Osbourne), and Jared Zirilli as Brit(ney Spears) — helped transform some of the script’s lame jokes from speedbumps into springboards for comedy and combined with the exuberant musical staging of director Ben elton, choreographer Arlene Phillips, and associate director and associate choreographer Tracey Flye to make We Will Rock You a jukebox musical worth every quarter!
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 6th Raleigh, NC WRAL interview with Jared Zirilli, conducted by Kathy Hanrahan for “Out & About”: http://www.wral.com/we-will-rock-you-backstage-bohemian/13189496/, http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/video/13189509/#/vid13189509, and http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/video/13189537/#/vid13189537; Dec. 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/12/04/3431855/approach-we-will-rock-you-as-a.html; Nov. 9th Washington, DC National Public Radio interview with Roger May, Brian Justin Crum, and Ben Elton, conducted by Allison Keyes for the weekend edition of “NPR News”: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=244113981; and Aug. 12th New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/181013-Is-the-Queen-Musical-We-Will-Rock-You-Broadway-Bound. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 2nd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/12/queen-and-ben-eltons-musical-we-will-rock-you-will-rock-raleigh-memorial-auditorium-on-dec-3-8/.)
Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre present WE WILL ROCK YOU at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 6 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $34.70-$105.00 (fees included).
Duke Energy Center Box Office (information only): 919-996-8700, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/949844.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707, email@example.com, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales.
SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/wewillrockyou-2619 and http://nctheatre.com/shows/we-will-rock-you.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT5XLmgLzcQ.
Broadway Series South: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south and https://www.facebook.com/BroadwaySeriesSouth.
North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Carolina-Theatre/24276860186.
We Will Rock You (2002 West End musical): http://www.wewillrockyou.co.uk/ (official website)and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Will_Rock_You_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
We Will Rock You (2013-14 North American tour): http://www.wewillrockyou.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/wewillrockyouusa (Facebook page).
Queen (music and lyrics): http://www.queenonline.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_%28band%29 (Wikipedia).
Ben Elton (book and direction): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Elton (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)