The TheatreguideLondon Review
Will Rock You
We Will Rock You is theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre, a manufactured entertainment designed for an easy, unchallenging Good Night Out. And on those terms it's pretty good.
Inspired, no doubt, by the success of Mamma Mia, the musical is built around the songs of the rock group Queen. Author-comic Ben Elton was recruited to provide a plot the songs could be plugged into, and his contribution, while serving its function, is the show's weakest element.
As The Beautiful Game showed, plot structure is not Elton's strongest suit, and even when he manages to get from A to B to C, or from song to song, he can't help exposing his dependence on earlier models. The Beautiful Game played like a remake of West Side Story, with exactly the same sorts of songs coming in exactly the same spots. And this show's sci-fi plot, set in a future where a global conglomerate controls all techno-entertainment and individual live music is forbidden until one inspired young man brings it back and saves the world for rock-and-roll -- well, from minute to minute you can't miss the structural echoes and borrowings from such varied sources as Grease, Time, Tommy, The Wall, and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Elton is a good gag writer, though, and what keeps the non-musical parts of this show afloat is a genuinely high level of wit, ranging from wicked digs at contemporary manufactured entertainment like Pop Idol through clever plays on words. The revolutionary underground our hero joins is made up of youths taking on the names of their culture heroes of the past, but they've gotten their history a little confused, so one particularly macho guy calls himself Britney Spears. Even Queen themselves come under some satirical scrutiny for their obscure and pretentious lyrics.
Sprinkled through all this are more than two dozen Queen songs and, speaking as one who knew only a couple of the most famous ones, they're pretty good. (I wasn't tempted to buy the original cast CD at the end of the show, but I might pick up Queen's greatest hits.) They're well-sung for the most part, and intelligently plugged into the story line, so that, for example, "Radio Ga Ga" is the sound our hero rebels against, and "The Good Die Young" a moving tribute to the underground's heroes. Inevitably and effectively, the title song and "We Are The Champions" come at the climax, and yes, they do get to "Bohemian Rhapsody," at just the right moment.
Tony Vincent isn't really strong enough, of voice or personality, to really score as the hero. It's OK for the character to start off as a bit of a shnook, but if he's going to be channelling Freddy Mercury by the end, he has to develop some sexual energy. Hannah Jane Fox is appropriately sparky in the somewhat formulaic role of his girlfriend, while Alexander Hanson and Sharon D. Clarke play the baddies as the cartoon characters they are. Nigel Planer scores wittily in a couple of brief scenes as the world's oldest hippie.
Director Christopher Renshaw keeps things moving, though Arlene Phillips' choreography is practically nonexistent. Your eye will repeatedly be distracted from the humans by some very clever computer-animated projections by Mark Fisher and Willie Williams.
As a product manufactured for people who don't normally go to the theatre and could be easily pleased, We Will Rock You is generically similar to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But where the purveyors of Chitty cynically made it no better than the absolute minimum needed to keep the punters happy, so that their show oozes contempt for its audience from start to finish, We Will Rock You gives real value for money. It's no My Fair Lady, but real effort, money and talent have gone into making it a better show than they could have gotten away with.
(Be aware that long-running shows will have had cast changes since our review was written.)
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Review - We Will Rock You - Dominion 2002