Introducing a new generation of stars, We Will Rock You is most notable for its superb recreation of Queen’s greatest hits, which have been shoehorned into a broad apocalyptic comedy by Ben Elton.
Directing his own material, Elton keeps energy sky high, making no pretense of subtlety or nuance. Dialogue scenes, which feature a wandering collection of accents, are at a pantomime level of broadness. If the idea is to attract and entertain those who do not usually attend musicals, there is no danger of their attention wandering. The forcefully performed, large scale show is a terrific fit for the mighty Regent Theatre, in which lesser productions can easily become lost.
Set in a dystopian future where rock music has been banned, a group of underground rebels seeks to return rock music to its full glory. Elton turns music theatre’s boy-meets-girl formula on its head by giving female lead Scaramouche a snarky, decidedly unromantic personality. Male lead Galileo is the dreamy dreamer who channels rock’s past by speaking in a ceaseless stream of audience-familiar song titles. The joke continues with the rebels’ adopted monikers, which include mis-matched, poorly pronounced incarnations of Madonna, Britney Spears et al.
Amidst this levity, one authentic, highly affecting moment shines through. Discussion of rock heroes turns to those who died before their time, and Oz (Ozzie Osbourne) sings “No-one But You (Only The Good Die Young).” In an evening of full-throated belting, shining star Jaz Flowers sings this tribute with such tender beauty that only the very hardest heart would be unmoved.
Gareth Keegan delivers another sensational lead performance as Galileo, deepening the mystery as to why he is not more of a household name. Keegan’s powerful tenor voice adapts perfectly to rock ballad style, his speaking voice has a very attractive tone and he fills out a black t-shirt most impressively.
Lumbered with the annoyingly unlikeable role of Scaramouche, relative newcomer Erin Clare gives a perky, well focused performance. For the rock numbers, Clare’s soprano voice sounds best when she is belting at full strength.
Long time supporting player and ensemble member, Thern Reynolds deservedly breaks out from the pack with the key role of Britney. Maintaining a strong physical presence, Reynolds sings with impressive rock style and delivers the humour in a good natured manner.
While the disappearance of true rock and roll is blamed on commercially produced blandness from the production line of Australian Idol, the series has actually produced one of the sensational stars of We Will Rock You in Casey Donovan. Made up like a superhero version of Mimi Bobeck, Donovan’s rock solid belt is electrifying in numbers such as “Killer Queen” and “Another One Bites The Dust.” Hopefully the stage will continue to serve up roles that fit Donovan’s mighty talents.
Just as George Kapiniaris impressed so thoroughly in Nice Work If You Can Get It, the secure, likeable performance of Brian Mannix as Buddy comes as a very pleasant surprise. Mannix delivers dialogue like a seasoned stage professional, and rocks out his big act two number “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” to great effect.
The talented members of the ensemble are largely featured in thankless choreographed scenes where their faces are not seen clearly. Their time to shine comes when playing individual Bohemians, and they thrive in these scenes.
Mark Fisher’s stadium-style scenic design fits the space grandly, and looks all the more spectacular with Willie Williams’ intense lighting design. The various songs largely play like video clips, with the songs well chosen for their popularity but not really advancing the story to any significant extent. Sound design by Bobby Aitken is extremely loud and yet ensemble lyrics are difficult to distinguish. A series of lavish pyrotechnic effects ends the show on a visual high.
Music supervisor Guy Simpson and musical director David Skelton have ensured that the music sounds authentic and vibrant. The musicians in the band are superb, and it is great to see them take a well-deserved bow on stage in the curtain calls.
We Will Rock You may not be aimed at Broadway fans, but Queen lovers will surely be keen to hear the music performed so well.
We Will Rock You plays at Regent Theatre, Melbourne until 30 October 2016.
Photos: Jeff Busby