‘We Will Rock You’ is a tribute with tribulations

The songs in the jukebox musical “We Will Rock You” now playing at the Ahmanson certainly rock, but unless you’re really rolling in cash, you might want to pass. This is a tribute musical to Queen and features songs written by Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon and the vocals are good, but the book is not. For Queen fans or Queen curious, the songs might be enough. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Ben Elton’s script attempts to fit the Queen songs into a futuristic world where rock and roll has been eliminated. Earth is now called iPlanet and controlled by Globalsoft Corporation (“Innuendo). Music is computer generated–one step further away from human creativity on a path pioneered by AutoTune. The Ga Ga Kids on iPlanet dress the same and the spirit of youthful rebellion has obliterated (“Radio Ga Ga”).

The original London production actually premiered over a decade ago in 2002 so this is no reference to Lady Gaga, of course.

A young man named Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) hears voices and his dreams spew out famous rock titles and hooks. He does not understand their significance. Perhaps 300 years in the future, the audience won’t give an appreciative chuckle either. He meets a goth girl who is also an outcast for her black clothes which is so unlike the Ga Ga Kids look. Galileo names her Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). At this point, you’ll probably be scanning the list of musical numbers and ponder why “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t listed.

Galileo and Scaramouche are captured by the fascist military forces under the rule of the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) who gets the best costumes and a architecturally high hairdo–mohawk meets extreme pompadour. Galileo and Scaramouche escape and meet up with the Bohemians (how far the meaning of that word has been distorted), who have taken refuge at the Hard Rock Cafe. It just so happens that this one has a statue of Freddie Mercury.

Galileo’s search eventually takes him to Graceland and they do find a guitar and that leads to a rousing rendition of “We Will Rock You.” which is followed by “We Are the Champions.” What I liked best were the costumes (by Tim Goodchild) which mixes everything from lollipop cutie pop culture to gentle grunge gone upscale. My favorite was the dominatrix costumes of the Killer Queen. Blame “Dancing with the Stars,” but you half expect to see the Killer Queen launch into a paso doble. Yet dance fans will be disappointed because the dancing on stage won’t particularly inspired you. Although the book mentions Prince and the King of Pop, nothing on stage (choreography and musical staging by Arlene Phillips) is up to that level. In all, the group dance numbers are rather pedestrian.

As director, Elton doesn’t work the movement into the music well enough to keep our eyes on stage. The high-tech stage which includes a moving screen and allow videos to be projected on either the top or bottom half (or both). Unfortunately, the first videos are old-style low quality 3D animation figures that won’t impress this generation of twenty-somethings. The only scene when the videos effectively help add some pizazz is the first scene from Act II. Yes, as late as the second act. That’s when the Bohemians are in laser cages and are being tastefully tortured. With the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury (from complications related to AIDS), it’s unlikely that fans of Queen–new and old, will ever get the chance to attend a reunion performance of the group. Brian May (vocals and guitar), John Deacon (bass guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums and vocals) are still alive, but who has the thrilling four-octave vocal range and flamboyant on-stage personality of Mercury.

This may be the closest anyone gets to a Queen concert in our times and that could be why despite rating low amongst critics, this show has remained popular. In the upscale atmosphere of the Ahmanson, hearing these tunes (“Radio Ga Ga,” “”I Want to Break Free,” “Somebody to Love,” “Killer Queen,” “Now I’m Here,” “Under Pressure,” “King of Magic,” “I Want it All,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Headlong,” “No One But You,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Flash,” “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Who Wants to Live Forever,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Hammer to Fall,” “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” “Will Will Rock You,” and “We are the Champions.”) might make you want to dance, but you’ll have to keep in your seat and save dancing for when you get home.

Love Queen and want to hear those songs sung live? Queen’s songs were all about the music and the incredible male vocals. If hearing Queen songs sung by first-rate vocalists live to a live band are enough (with the addition of that “Under Pressure” which was written by Queen and David Bowie), then see what all the fuss is about. Critics may be saying no, but the masses have been saying go. You have until August 24, 2014 to decide because that’s when “We Will Rock You” will be leaving Los Angeles.

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