Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 20 – Jun 26, 2016
Music & Lyrics: Queen
Story & Script: Ben ELton
Director: Ben Elton
Cast: Erin Clare, Casey Donovan, Jaz Flowers, Gareth Keegan, Brian Mannix, Thern Reynolds, Simon Russell
Image by Jeff Busby
There is a scene in which the Bohemians declare that they do not know what rock and roll is. Ben Elton, writer and director of We Will Rock You evidently suffers from that same predicament. The production showcases some of the greatest rock tunes ever written, but in the interest of the musical theatre genre, builds characters and a narrative around them that unfortunately serve no real purpose except to dilute and dumb down the genius of Freddie Mercury and his Queen legacy.
Elton’s show features an endless series of dad jokes, and a tenuous context of anti-establishment that reads more like anti-progress and narrow minded, greying conservatism. It attempts to make jokes of pop culture icons such as Australian Idol, without acknowledging the fact that the strongest performer in its cast had been a prominent winner of that very franchise. It uses names like Britney Spears and Katy Perry as punchlines, as though we would all share its appetite in humiliating those women and obliterating their undeniable achievements. The show finds it energy from the music it is authorised to use, but unlike the musicians it attempts to pay tribute to, We Will Rock You is spiritless and banal.
The story is yet another take on the messianic allegory. Like Jesus from the Bible or Neo from The Matrix, Galileo is sent from the heavens to save us all. Whether or not one is concerned with the political incorrectness, and tastelessness, of creating opportunities for another white man to deliver us from evil, the trope is frankly, very desperately tired. As though its format is not already archaic enough, a female “lead character” is included for no discernible reason except to provide Galileo with a love interest, presumably to assure us of his hetero-masculinity in case, god forbid, Freddie Mercury’s gayness would befall him by association.
It is a well-performed show nonetheless, with an excellent band, and a strong cast that traverses the rock and musical genres effortlessly. The aforementioned Idol winner Casey Donovan steals the show as the villainous Killer Queen, winning us over to the dark side where everything is much more appealing and infinitely more rock and roll; very ironic indeed. Brian Mannix, frontman of 1980s rock bad Uncanny X-Men, is also on hand to bring hints of authentic flavour to a stage that is ostensibly tailored for a “family-friendly” type crowd. They may all be stars that we see having their glitzy moment in We Will Rock You, but it is certainly not rock heaven that they have taken us.