So my friend
Let me make this clear: “We Will Rock You” is pretty awful…and yet by the end of it, even I, who knows better, went away feeling like I’d seen a great show. I’m a tough audience; most people are not going to have the problems I had with the show, and my frequently scathing review is not meant to belittle those who really love it, because I can see why people would. :)
More behind the cut, because this will spoil the stage show.
So the basic story of WWRY is that in the far future, GlobalSoft has taken over the world, all music is synthesized, and rock is dead. But there is rumor of the Dreamer, who, guided by a Bright Star, will find the Legendary Ax in the Living Rock, and revive rock&roll. And he does. This is the clothesline upon which almost 3 hours of Queen’s music is hung, and there are moments when as a clothesline it works surprisingly well. There are more when it doesn’t, but I think some of that is in the staging.
And I understand the staging, even if I really didn’t like it. In this world, everyone has a username and lives their lives online. Our young hero, Galileo Figuro, has broken out (“What do you want?” asks the Henchman. “I want to break free!” cries Galileo, and we’re off.), but is stuttery, stiff, and awkward.
Indeed, nearly everyone’s performances were stiff and awkward, done as a kind of stand-and-present, which is one of my least favorite ways to stage a musical. I can see what they were doing: throughout the show people become increasingly relaxed and comfortable, and when we meet the rebels (the Bohemians, searching for the Rhapsody), they’re far less stiff…but it’s still stand and present (and yet they also manage to sing directly upstage, which although I realize with microphones the audios aren’t a problem, makes me crazy in the head).
Speaking of audios, a few things: one, the sound balance was off. The music was as deafening as a rock concert, which is no doubt the point, so that was mildly forgiveable. Two: I have this crazy idea that you ought to be able to hear the lead above and separately from the chorus. In far too many songs, I couldn’t, and I find that irritating. And three, this was performed at the O2 in Dublin, which…well, I hope for the performers’ sakes that the sound reflected back at them more clearly than it was audible from the audience, because to my ears, it was like a giant baffle had been placed over the audience: applause, cheers, everything, were tremendously muted. Distressingly so: I felt like something was wrong with my ears.
The choreography, again arguably for a reason, was too samey-samey. I mean, again, I get why, but even understanding what they were doing didn’t take away from me noticing its repetitiveness.
I did not care for the sub-and-not-so-subtextual digs at women. Galileo gives our heroine her name, because in this world nobody has anything but usernames. So she becomes Scaramouche, says she doesn’t like that, and that people will call her “Scary Bush”. And so at some point everybody, including Galileo, does, and at nearly the end there’s another crack which is set up by that whole (I hesitate to call it a) running gag. The crack was, I admit, funny, but there were no equivilant cracks at men…although equally offensively, the one black guy’s character was hypersexualized and, even more appallingly, featured a kilt-like costume which had a rather large free-swinging dangly bit just about where you’d expect it to be.
The other basic problem with WWRY is that it’s just impossible to follow Freddie Mercury in terms of vocals. The best you can do is try to make a song your own, but in most cases, his shadow is too overwhelming. And I thought that for at least half the performances in the show, that was what happened.
But when they got it right, they really hit it out of the ballpark. The main bad guy (The Killer Queen of Globalsoft) owned “Another One Bites the Dust”. Galileo and Scaramouche, who not unreasonably think they’re probably going to die tomorrow, did a *wonderful* duet of “Who Wants To Live Forever” (complete with build-up stanging–a few notes, then silence, then a few more notes, silence, and a final few notes before going for broke–that had me just about hopping with anticipa–).
The big choral production numbers were all pretty great, in part because that many voices helps to cover Mercury’s range, and therefore the music seemed to me to have more depth and interest in those piece. And throughout we get snippets of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, cementing the expectation that it’s going to be the big final production number.
What happens at the end–and this is why despite it being a not-very-good show, I think it’s probably nearly impossible to not go away delighted–what happens at the end is that it turns into a full-blown rock concert. Galileo finds the Legendary Ax (which Scaramouche plays). They’re feeling their way into what to do with it, and lines from “We Will Rock You” are being tossed back and forth as spoken lines, until Galileo recognizes their potential.
And from there on out it literally rocks. He begins the beat, the audience joins in, everybody’s singing, bum bum BUM, bum bum BUM, a microphone is brought out, and suddenly Galileo has completed the transformation from stiff awkward boy trying to find himself into Rock Star. He’s interacting with the audience, he’s bringing it all home, they bring the band up for applause, the Killer Queen is destroyed, and We Are The Champions is the curtain call piece. And it’s a hell of a rendition of the song, so RAAAAAAAAAH YAY ROCK MUSIC HOORAY GOOD SHOW YAY, they take their bows, the lights go down…
…and on the big background screen, the words come up: Do you want to hear Bohemian Rhapsody? The audience barely has time to react when the next words come up: Oh, all right, then.
And the full cast performs the song brilliantly, and the audience sings along, and it’s great, huge fun. And so despite the many, many flaws, I couldn’t help going away feeling that I’d had a good time, and that I might even go see it again, given the opportunity. :)