No one is pretending We Will Rock You is the greatest musical ever written, but for a show dedicated to delivering the back catalogue of the rock group QUEEN and their iconic front man Freddie Mercury, who can possibly leave not having had a great night?
21 years since it all began, previewing at the Dominion Theatre in London, We Will Rock You was, it’s fair to say, panned by theatre critics, but what do they know?! Their view clearly didn’t make it through to the 20 million people who subsequently went to the show across 28 countries, not to mention its whopping 12-year residency at the Dominion, one of the biggest capacity theatres in the West End.
Are its devoted audience completely ga ga? Or is the music and legacy of one of the greatest bands the world has ever known, enough of a draw to fans of the rock icons that a 12-week run in London after a 9-year hiatus will be a huge success. The Recs feels the latter will likely be the case and once again any naysayers will have totally overlooked that this show is ‘A Kind of Magic’.
Written at a time before the iPhone (can you imagine!), the musical tells the story of a group of Bohemians who struggle to restore the free exchange of thought, fashion and live music in a distant future where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same. It was written as a view of the ‘future’ and we couldn’t help thinking as the show progressed, how so many of the jokes and jibes at what the internet might bring to our lives, have already come true… and not in such a good way!
Ben Elton’s book, whilst never destined to grace the stage at Stratford-Upon-Avon or the National Theatre, does what it needs to do and fills the gaps between the songs everyone has come for, with Dad-joke humour predictions of a less than perfect dystopian existence on ‘iPlanet’ (once called Earth). Considering it was penned over 20 years ago, it is rather frightening how accurate and true to modern day like some of the storyline has become. There are moments of true Elton comedy as well as moments to cringe and roll your eyes at but all in the name of good old fashioned fun.
It will come as no surprise that the show is filled bursting with hit upon hit from Queen’s song list, featuring 24 of their best-loved hits, including We Are The Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, Don’t Stop Me Now, Radio Ga Ga and the title song We Will Rock You, to name only five! Anyone who saw the original production or the proceeding tours will realise how demanding the show is on vocalists. You do wonder how they keep finding such talented performers to meet the challenges of the score. Have the leads been farmed from some rock pop academy, with iron clad vocal chords and a range to simply marvel at? We think so!
Oliver-Award-Nominated Ian McIntosh takes on the role of Galileo Figaro for the third time, having performed it previously on the UK Tour and 20th Anniversary Tour. His vocal skill is quite simply astonishing and seems to have no limits. Taking on a role where you are expected to sing Freddie Mercury’s original material is no mean feat and yet its clear from the first note to the final rousing songs of the show that McIntosh is one of the country’s most capable singers, and carries the show with ease.
His romantic sidekick is emo championing Scaramouche (yes all the characters are named after Queen lyrics or pop icons) played by Elena Skye, who matches McIntosh in vocal power and talent at every moment. Skye having previously also played the role on the UK Tour, the production team have gone for the old saying, if it’s not broken don’t fix it, and have not tried to reinvent the wheel with the casting.
That has clearly worked to their benefit with McIntosh and Skye, but sadly not with the recasting of Brenda Edwards in the role of Killer Queen, which she played at both the Dominion Theatre and on UK Tour. Edwards’ portrayal is more panto villain than even Elton’s marmite script is asking for, and she lacks the vocal dexterity and range to deliver the challenging and robust score of this mega-hit rock show.
With new casting comes Christine Allado who steps into the shoes of Musical Theatre royalty Kerry Ellis, who originated the role of Meatloaf, with ease, and brings even more vocal energy and power than you might have thought possible after Ellis’s take on the song No One But You. Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat and TV Star Lee Mead gives a commendable and not-too-shabby portrayal of Khashoggi, and Adrian Hansel who original the role of Seaweed in the West End production of Hairspray, is all round perfect casting for the macho muscle bound role of Britney Spears.
The huge ensemble cast fill the vast coliseum stage with the energy and passion you’d expect from this show, and Jacob Fearey’s choreography is both a nod to Dame Arlene Philips’ original work, as well as a fresh new take of mixed commercial, modern and even classical dance styles.
As musicals go, We Will Rock You is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you love the style and classic stories of shows like Les Mis, it probably won’t be for you, but there is no doubt that if you can put aside the bizarre and sometimes insane storyline for the sake of listening to some of the best voices the British theatre scene has to offer, singing songs which even the least familiar with Queen will recognise and bop along to, you’re have a really great night out at the theatre.
Don’t stop them now – We’re having such a good time – ★★★★ 4 stars