Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We Will Rock You

Music by Queen
Story and Script by Ben Elton
PeeWee Productions
Ais Arena
Until Nov 10
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

On the iPlanet ruled by the Killer Queen of GlobalSoft, a dreamer – Galileo, and his purple-haired partner Scaramouche, as he names her, search for “a rock that hangs in the air” and a mysterious “axe”. At the Hard Rock CafĂ©, a bunch of Bohemians, named after rock and pop stars, hang out, wistfully yearning for a time they never knew, the allure of the remnants strewn around beckons them to find “Rock and Roll”, only when pressed for any solid information, the enthusiastic yet clueless gang “Don’t know” any.

The PeeWee Productions telling of “We Will Rock You” makes no bones about the script, written by Ben Elton, existing purely as a coathanger for the songs of Queen. It does, however, also serve to poke fun at the robotic, group-mentality world of automated music, iPhones, facebook friends and the obsession with the internet we now have.

Perfectly cast as Killer Queen is Queenie van de Zandt, who, with her side-kick Khashoggi, performed by Max Gambale enforce the laws of no instrument playing or making and no creation of live music. Ironically the music they do make on stage is brilliant. “A Kind of Magic”, with the ensemble backing, had perfect harmonies and hit all the right notes.

Galileo (Toby Francis) is consumed by dreams and words that he spurts out continually, almost as if speaking in tongues. Unbeknownst to him, they are lyrics from the Beatles to Britney and everyone in-between. This ancient insight makes him a target for GlobalSoft, so he teams up with Scaramouche, performed by Erin Clare as well as Oz and Brit (Samantha Marceddo and Dave Smith, respectively) to restore music to the planet and work out what his dreams and these words all mean. Many humorous exchanges take place through the one-liners, song snippets and the smart-mouthed, sarcastic Scaramouche. The banter between Galileo, Scaramouche and Buddy (David Cannell) is hilarious.

Clare and Francis delivered a beautiful rendition of “Who Wants to Live Forever”. Clare’s performance was enthralling, her singing warm and confident, perfectly suited for the role. Her lower register was lost on occasion when singing duets and competing with the volume of the band. Francis was at his best when singing without running around, as at times he sounded breathless and appeared to have an issue with his earpiece. There were a couple of late mic entries on occasion during the show. Cannell was delightful in his comedic performance with Smith and Marceddo giving good performances. Marceddo’s solo was a stand-out.

Andrea Clifford-Jones directed a meticulous musical performance from the band. It was easy to forget the music was live and not Queen recordings. The show began as an aural challenge until acclimatised to the volume. Guitarists Jeandre Fourie and Stuart King got well-deserved cameos. They were brilliant, playing the riffs and timing with absolute accuracy. To really show up Galileo, it would have impressed had Scaramouche actually played the guitar instead of miming it.

Anna Senior as costume designer clad the performers in slick ensemble numbers and well-fitted, revealing but appealing corsets and briefs and dramatic, dazzling sequins. The wigs and hairpieces created by Marie Donnell were dramatic and brilliant.

Nikole Neal choreographed for a confident and well-rehearsed ensemble, whose singing was also impressive. “Fat Bottomed Girls” felt somewhat laboured in the monotonous beat of the steps. The choreography overall slickly portrayed the regimented style of GlobalSoft, contrasting the freedom of the Bohemians, especially in jive number “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

The cast, lighting and set (designed by Chris Neal), succeed in filling the cavernous venue that is the AIS. The multi-dimensional GlobalSoft Medical Facility set was particularly effective and via the huge, moving LED screen, Queen does make an appearance.

The “axe” is found – it turned out to be a Brian May-styled guitar and the mecca of Wembley Stadium is reached in a finale and audience-induced encore that venerates Freddie Mercury and could have ended on a poignant note of his lit statue, but continued on for another curtain call. The audience did not miss a beat in joining in “We Will Rock You”.

Director Kelda McManus and the producers have secured a killer cast, providing Queen fans, along with those less familiar with the band, a wonderful night of music, laughs, entertainment and a visual spectacular. As the audience filed out and the fire alarm went off, one can only assume it was from the pyrotechnics used in the finale and that the AIS still stands to hold the remaining shows. Get along and you will leave feeling suitably rocked!

*A version of this review appears online at citynews.com.au