Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
If you couldn't figure it out from the title, the show is a jukebox musical comprised of Queen songs. The plot takes place in a futuristic dystopia, where people have URLs instead of names, and everyone lives in the virtual world, rather than the real one. All music is prepackaged computerized pop; there are no instruments or original rock bands. But, lo, there is a prophecy that someday, one young man, a dreamer, will destroy Globalsoft's hold over the people and lead the planet's youth to break out of the virtual world into freedom. They might as well call him "Neo" and get it over with. Actually, he's called Galileo Figaro. (The lead "chick" is Scaramouche; the rebel underground are called Bohemians, and they're searching for the Rhapsody. Subtlety is not the strong suit of We Will Rock You.)
There is, truly, no purpose in pointing out the flaws in the plot. It's intended to serve only as a frame for the performances of Queen songs. So the kids in the virtual high school sing "Radio Gaga" (in absolutely perfect, somewhat creepy, synchronization); Galileo sings "I Want to Break Free" (you can't fault its use as an "I Want" songit's right there in the lyrics); and Scaramouche wants "Somebody to Love." Later in the show, though, it seems like writer Ben Elton wasn't even trying to find a reason for a character to sing a particular song. At one point, the head of Globalsoft (the Killer Queen, natch) interrupts her quest to capture the Bohemians to sing the praises of "Fat Bottomed Girls" for pretty much no reason except to have the song performed. (And nobody should think too hard about why the Killer Queen, whose very raison d'être is to prohibit rock music, actually, y'know, sings rock songs.)
Seriously, though, set all that to one side. We Will Rock You means to entertain, not to be particularly thought-provoking. If the execution of the songs rocksand if there is something added by making it a musical (rather than, say, a Queen tribute band concert)the endeavor will be worth it. And on that point, the version playing at the Ahmanson is only a partial success.
It isn't surprising, really. Not everyone has Freddie Mercury's amazing range (and inherent theatricality), so it's tough to find a cast who can pull off those lead vocals. The women, actually, do a somewhat better job with it. Ruby Lewis's clear, strong voice results in a magnetic "Somebody to Love." Erica Peck, as one of the Bohemians, leads a beautiful "No-One But You." Brian Justin Crum, though, just doesn't have the range to deliver a captivating Galileo. It's apparent when he tries to charm his way through "I Want to Break Free," but is at its most obvious when the cast does a post-curtain-call "Bohemian Rhapsody"it's the song the musical has been referencing all night, and Crum simply can't do it justice. His performance is not without charisma, though, and he gets plenty of laughs as the kid who spouts song lyrics he doesn't understand. And credit should go to P.J. Griffith as the Killer Queen's right-hand man, for realizing exactly the type of role he's playing, and evilly chewing the scenery at every opportunity.
The staging, too, is a mixed bag. When the Killer Queen sings "Another One Bites the Dust," a game of Space Invaders is projected on the screen behind her. Certainly, something more visually interesting could have been used. It's unfortunate, but the clean, crisp, Stepford-like choreography of "Radio Gaga" at the top of the show is probably the best theatricalization of any of the songs in the musical.
Note must also be made of the show's attempt to rock-concert-up its audience. The Ahmanson's website suggests dressing in concert-going attire, being prepared to scream (clap, and sing) along, and bringing your drinks back to your seat. All of this is good, and when it's genuine, it does increase your enjoyment of the show. The website, though, also suggests that you download the Zippo Lighter App, so as to wave a "lighter" at the appropriate time. And if you don't know the appropriate time, a member of the cast utterly breaks character to tell you to get that app ready. (I didn't see anyone in the opening night audience do so.) Setting aside the mixed signals sent by telling you to get your app ready after you've been told to turn off your cell phone, the direction to use the Zippo Lighter App is astonishingly out of place. It's product placement, it's silly, and it's telling you to use a virtual lighter to help create a real rock moment. I can understand not wanting real lighters in the theatre, but this undermines everything the show is actually trying to say. If a true rock moment doesn't happen organically, it shouldn't happen at all.
Center Theatre Group -- Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Edward L. Rada, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director; Queen Theatrical Productions; Phil McIntyre Entertainments; Tribeca Theatrical Productions; and Networks Presentations present We Will Rock You. Music and Lyrics by Queen; Story and Script by Ben Elton. Original Production Designer Mark Fisher; Lighting Designer Willie Williams; Video Directors Mark Fisher & Willie Williams; Sound Designer Bobby Aitken; Costume Designer Tim Goodchild; Hair and Make-up Design John Jack' Curtin. Associate Scenic Designer Ric Lipson; Associate Costume Designer David Newell; Associate Lighting Designer Anthony Pearson; Associate Sound Designer Garth Helm; Orchestrator Steve Sidwell; Music Director/Conductor Nate Patten; Music Supervisor Mike Dixon, Brian May & Roger Taylor; Music Coordinator John Miller. Production Manager Ben Neafus; Production Stage Manager Melissa Chacón, Company Manager Tegan Meyer. Casting Duncan Stewart, CSA/Benton Whitley, CSA, Duncan Stewart and Company; National Tour Press and Marketing Allied Live; Tour Booking The Road Company; Queen Management Jim Beach; Executive Producer Seth Wenig; General Manager Gentry & Associates, Guy Jordin Heard. Associate Director & Associate Choreographer Tracey Flye; Musical Staging & Choreographer Arlene Phillips; Director Ben Elton.