Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crazy Little Thing Called 'We Will Rock You' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

We Will Rock You
by Queen and Ben Elton
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru October 27

We Will Rock You did, but that's about all.

The show, which has been running in London for 2002 but is just days into its first American tour--I had seen it once before in a community theater-type production--has a storyline that my friend Paolo describes as kitschy, but I would best call inane and non-sensical.

And while some might find the campiness and stupidity so silly as to be charming, I found it--even the bad puns and hokey song title references; I know, I know--to be more annoying than engaging.

Thus I cannot call We Will Rock You a great musical, nor even a good piece of theater.

But despite all the banality, it features a bunch of great Queen songs and while no one reminded me of Freddie Mercury--or even his spirit and persona--the 2-1/2 hour show couldn't help but be enjoyably entertaining while tunes like "Under Pressure," "I Want To Break Free," "I Want It All" and many others, including the title song, were being performed.

We even got "Bohemian Rhapsody" as an encore.

I won't bother describing much of the plot--I doubt I could--but the action seems to take place on iPlanet, where rock music is long since dead and banned.

In other words, it's basically the story of Footloose or any other work where young people fight the system for their right of expression.

The two main characters are named Galileo Figaro (played here by Brian Justin Crum)and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), with a third whose adopted moniker, Buddy Holly (Ryan Knowles), is principally thus just to set up the line, "Buddy, you're a boy make a big noise playin' in the street gonna be a big man someday."

There was also a Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold)--not so unlike the Acid Queen in The Who's Tommy--and Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith), the tyrannical head of a malevolent company named GlobalSoft

As I said to Paolo, the narrative of We Will Rock You makes that of Mamma Mia seem like Shakespeare.

And if you're wondering why this show is better than simply seeing a good Queen tribute band, it probably isn't.

I once saw a good Queen tribute band, although it was actually just the surviving members of Queen touring with Paul Rodgers (of Bad Company) as their singer.

Sadly, I never saw the great Mercury in person, as though I loved Queen as a kid--what 8-year old boy wouldn't be smitten by "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions"--after 1980's The Game album and the "Under Pressure" collaboration with David Bowie, the band largely became an afterthought in the U.S., where they didn't tour past 1982.

Though they would remind the world just how great they were with their Live Aid set in 1985, and would remain huge around the world, it wasn't until after Mercury's death from AIDS in 1990 that America seemed to re-embrace the band's unique "kind of magic."

So whatever its theatrical merits--or lack thereof--the show was worth my time simply for the songs. But I don't know if I need to see it ever again.

The main performances were solid if not spectacular and while the storyline and jokes were cringeworthy--even, or perhaps especially, with obvious recent script additions not only referencing (often) the likes of Lady Gaga, but Miley Cyrus and her twerking--I did applaud the show's "championing" of the artistic brilliance of Queen (and other classic rock artists) vs. the tepid auto-tuned mediocrity of what passes for much of pop music today.

Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik
To wrap this up, particularly as We Will Rock You will only be in Chicago through Sunday:

If you love Queen enough to appreciate their songs being performed live in any form, this show is dumb but harmless, and you'll probably enjoy it.

If you're simply a musical theater lover without any inherent affinity for Queen, stay away.

And for anyone else, including those who relish Queen but would rather not hear their classic material be messed with, get yourself a copy of Queen at Wembley on DVD.

As a much more satisfying choice, that will really rock you.

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