The title says it all—We Will Rock You, and rock us they do! Broadway Across America in conjunction with the CareFirst Hippodrome Broadway Series is proud to present We Will Rock You: The Musical by Queen and Ben Elton as it launches its first North American tour with Baltimore as its launching point. All of the iconic favorites are heard in this thunderously impressive musical tale of triumph through the ages. Directed by Ben Elton, who also penned the story and the script, featuring the music of Queen, this rock sensation brings a new meaning to the idea of a ‘rock musical.’ With a plot so ludicrous that it’s brilliant, and ingenious choreography and technical design that draws the audience into the ‘lost world’ of rock; this show is a smash hit and brings the audience to their feet to stomp along.
This is no ordinary rock musical. With all the spectacle of a rock concert and all the intensity and honest plot devices of a Broadway production, Ben Elton has hit the mark with his concept. The story takes place in a futuristic world on the ‘iplanet’ where all music is programmed and no one has free-thought to create. But a rebel dreamer joins the cause of the ‘Bohemians’ to find the lost sound of Rock-n-Roll and undertakers a perilous journey of epic proportions to see that music is returned to the world. With every Rock-n-Roll reference in the book, straight up through modern pop music, Elton’s script is chocked full of humor and poignant zingers. The plot is bent in such a fashion that you can easily navigate it based on the song selection but are still anxiously anticipating what’s going to happen next. A finer tribute to all of Queen’s accomplishments could not have been made; a stunning fully-formulated musical with rocker influence has never been more successfully articulated. This is one for the masses, spanning the generation gap from when Queen first started gathering groupies right up to the youth of today who enjoy the heavy beats and lively sounds.
Lighting Designer Willie Williams, who works as the show’s Video Designer with Co-Designer Mark Fisher, come together to create a visual spectacle that creates the authentic feel of being at a rock concert. There are laser lights that flood the audience, floating color schemes that augment the more heavily emotionally themed musical numbers, and a pulsation of light that even when subtle and subdued carries the energy of the show continuously. Williams and Fisher use stunning visual projections to ground the show in its present futuristic reality, the repetitive flashing of the cyber-soldier-clones is a stark image that really drives this notion home to the audience. Some of their finest work happens during “Flash” and “Seven Seas of Rhye,” an intense series of strobe lighting and visual projections that culminate a major plot point in the show.
Costume Designer Tim Goodchild understands the rocker culture. His finest work comes into play when the audience encounters ‘the Bohemians.’ Ensemble members whose costumes resemble heavy rock fashion only flared in such a manner as to subtly reflect a Neanderthalic existence; the colors are mostly black punctuated sharply with brighter hues of pinks and purples. Goodchild does an equally impressive job with Killer Queen’s wardrobe, making her borderline dominatrix gear really pop against her figure. Goodchild creates an intriguing juxtaposition of worlds; polished shiny uniformity amongst the ‘ga-ga girls’ at ‘school’ and the ‘students’ who are featured in “Radio Ga Ga” and “Somebody to Love” against the startling crazy chaos of the Bohemians.
Taking on the task of putting movement to some of the greatest rock songs of all times is no small task and Choreographer Arlene Phillips rises to the challenge with extreme success. Phillips’ style of choreography in this musical is two-fold – creating a startling contrast between the Globalsoft drones of the iplanet and the Bohemians. The dance sequences executed by the cyber-drones in numbers like “Radio Ga Ga” and “Killer Queen” are rigid and crisp, their movements perfectly synchronized, and robotic in nature. The lively chaos that ensues amongst the Bohemians during numbers like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Will Rock You” are much more free style, incorporating a myriad of routines, even a little swing and jazz. Phillips keeps the ensemble and main performers moving throughout the performance; a key element to success in a musical of this caliber.
The ensemble is a force to be reckoned with – powerfully backing up important choruses during all of the hit numbers; their presence is not only seen and heard but felt when they flood the stage for the act I finale and again for the finale of the show. The ensemble drives a jolt of energy into this show that keeps it rocking and rolling hard throughout the progression of the plot; it keeps the audience engaged.
On every epic quest there will always be a bad guy out to thwart the protagonist and make no mistake this time around it’s one bad B. Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) that is, and she has the vocal prowess to prove it. From the moment Arnold’s is rolled onto the stage for her debut, self-titled number, you know she’s going to be trouble with a capital ‘T.’ Belting out with a saucy flare her title number and numbers like “Now I’m Here,” she’ll send thunderbolts and lightning (that are in fact very, very frightening!) up your spine! With a ferocious pizzazz she takes what she wants, particularly in “Another One Bites the Dust,” and everyone knows that Arnold is boss when it comes to who is who.
Of course it wouldn’t be very much fun to have just one evil doer, though Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith) is far less evil and more of a pawn in the grander scheme of things. With his Billy Idol bleach-blonde rocker coif and his prissy polished British accent, Griffith is the instigating worm that wriggles along for the audience’s amusement. Don’t be fooled by his total submissive behavior in the presence of Killer Queen, Griffith has a voice that will surprise you, his duet with Arnold, “A Kind of Magic,” the first place it is heard. Griffith really sinks into the meat of the character for “Seven Seas of Rhye” and his larger than life dancing style is out of this world.
Even Bohemians need leaders and this time they’ve found one in Buddy (Ryan Knowles). A harsh rocker character, who is not dissimilar to the ‘Berger’ character from Hair, brings his silly, albeit practical, knowledge of historical secrets to light and becomes a guiding beacon for our heroes on their quest. For as comical as his character is, Knowles presents a deeper side to this wayward rocker when singing his solo “These are the Days of Our Lives,” a sublimely mellow song that pierces the soul with his pensive reflections.
Brit (Jared Zirilli) and Oz (Erica Peck) are like two-peas-in-a-pod when it comes to being rocker lovers. Whacked out in all the right ways, Zirilli and Peck are the perfect duo for being the subplot romance. They provide a great deal of comic relief in an already zany show, each having a keen sense of how to play lines off the other. When the duo belts out “I Want it All” it is clear that tremendous sound comes from a place deep inside of them. Peck shines with seriously harsh rocker-quality vocals during her belts in this number, really showing who wears the air-guitar in this relationship. The pair work brilliantly together and create a nice opposing dynamic to the show’s main couple.
The black clothes and slightly ‘emo’ approach to life shouldn’t fool you when it comes to Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). Her phenomenal voice is the perfect feminine balance to Queen’s music. Her opening belt in “Somebody to Love” is fiercely soul-shattering; a sound for which there are not enough words. Lewis sings each number from an emotional well deep inside her soul, coupling in duets like “Under Pressure” with Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) in sheer vocal perfection. Their voices meld into the epitome of ripe harmony for “You’re My Best Friend” and their overall execution of their roller coaster relationship fits seamlessly into the show. Lewis is a killer queen all on her own, but pairing her with Crum’s voice for these duets is pure rhapsody.
Brian Justin Crum, as the dreamer Galileo, is a vocal sensation that needs to be heard to be believed. His voice is so pure, unfettered by years of rocking too hard, that he manages to craft a unique and revitalizing sound to these glorious classics. When singing “I Want to Break Free” he’s so emotionally charged that not only can you hear the need pulsing in his voice but you can see it manifesting in his body. Performing the solo introduction to perhaps the most popular song of the show, after the show has closed, Crum stunned the audience with his rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it brought the audience to their feet in tumultuous applause. A stellar astounding performance given by this talented young actor, a role in which he should not be missed.
The bonus of being in attendance for the opening night of the tour’s first stop is that founding member of Queen Brian May joined the company on stage to play his live guitar solo during “Bohemian Rhapsody” – a rare and exquisite treat for all those present.
We Will Rock You is not to be missed on its brief stay in Baltimore, so jump on your bicycle and get down to the Hippodrome before this one bites the dust and nothing really matters anymore.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 50 minutes, with one intermission.
We Will Rock You on Tour website.