I have to admit that I am missing the gay gene responsible for the ability to appreciate musical theater. I attended several musicals in high school as part of my involvement with Drama Club and Show Choir (I was a geek, in case I haven’t mentioned it before), but I rarely enjoyed them. There were a handful I somewhat enjoyed (Phantom of the Opera and Big River), but even in those cases I would get bored at some point during the three hours and stare down at my program, desperately counting the songs until it was over. And we won’t even get started on the ones I hated. I don’t believe in hell, but–if I did–I think it would involve having to sit through neverending productions of Grand Hotel and Starlight Express.
That being said, though, I love the band Queen, and would recommend We Will Rock You even to those of you who don’t usually enjoy musicals (though having an appreciation for Queen is probably essential).
We Will Rock You was written by Queen and Ben Elton, originally debuted in London in 2002, and is set 300 years in the future. In this future, original music and instruments are outlawed, and anyone who doesn’t conform to a corporate conglomerate’s manufactured standards of music, fashion, and entertainment is hunted down like a criminal. So, it’s basically the kind of thing that could actually happen.
We attended the musical on Tuesday (16 April) in Esch-sur-Alzette’s Rockhal. Though, upon arrival, we discovered that the venue is perhaps better suited for concerts rather than stage musicals, we were still optimistic. After all, going to a musical about the band Queen is basically like seeing a concert, right? So I overlooked the drab, industrial, cavernous room. I overlooked the fact that we were sitting in folding chairs. I had a feeling it was going to be a lot of fun, and it really, really was.
If you’re into Queen (and if you’re not, you probably wouldn’t be seeing this anyway), you should know that many of the songs have been retooled a bit to fit the plot. I was irritated by this at first, but that faded fairly quickly. You may also need to know that the light and visual displays can vacillate between state of the art science fiction and slightly cheesy retro. I think this is a bit deliberate on the part of the musicals producers, though, so I’m not holding that against anyone. I also rather think there is a different standard for “cheesy” when it comes to these sorts of productions, given the central premise of all of them is that–at any time–anyone can and does burst into song.
Though the songs have been reformatted to fit the context, it is all done in an unobtrustive way. And they’re still the same awesome rocks songs. You will still be able to mouth along and tap your feet. The story is a bit cliche as far as the “things suck in the future” premise goes, but at the same time it manages to capture what many believe is the problem with music and culture today. It criticizes–entirely by accident–the modern day phenomenon of Lady Gaga, given her name was originally stolen from a Queen song. In the future, the brainwashed, conformist youth are called “Ga Ga Kids.” Given the musical was written several years before Lady Gaga hit it big, I find this pretty cool and slightly spooky.
The whole thing comes together as well as any musical possibly can, which is an especially impressive feat given that it is strung together with songs originally unrelated to eachother. It is fast-paced, engaging, never gets boring, and even manages to get several laughs. I realize that most critics hated it, but I couldn’t care less. We’re not talking about Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams here. The mission of the musical is solely to entertain, and to provide a cohesive story on which to hang some really great songs. We Will Rock You undoubtedly accomplishes that, unlike another 70’s-band-musical I could mention (I’m looking at you, Mama Mia!).
SPOILER: One last thing. I have to say my favorite part of the musical was its treatment of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I admit I’m a little jaded about the song. Don’t get me wrong–it is arguably one of the greatest rock songs ever written. But I went to high school during the early 90s. Between Freddie Mercury’s untimely death in 1991 and Wayne’s World in 1992, that song was played several billion times on the radio and MTV (back when they actually showed music videos). So–it is a great song–but it also got really. Really. Old. So I was hoping that this musical would be able to feature their great songs (and there are a lot of them) without being overshadowed by their greatest. I was very pleasantly surprised. I was happy to see the song cleverly woven into the story itself, and then standing alone on its own at the end (the whole song is only done as a sort of encore after the curtain call).
Overall? It isn’t perfect. It isn’t high art. But it is definitely a great way to spend an evening. Check it out if you can!