As much as I enjoy participating in musical theater, it is not often that I have the opportunity to actually see a live show. It is an expensive hobby, unless you know how to game the system. And luckily one of my notoriously frugal friends knows how to do just that. After all, a reasonably priced ticket is probably the only reason you would ever see me sitting in the audience at We Will Rock You, the musical experience by Queen and Ben Elton (whoever the hell that is).
I got pretty into Queen in high school. I know this may be a controversial opinion, but I think Freddy Mercury’s voice was amazing. And the songs are incredibly catchy. I’m not the biggest consumer of music, but I guess Queen resides in my top 5 bands. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it that much. So the idea of a jukebox musical based on their songs both interests and disgusts me. But when my friend floated the idea of attending, I knew I had to go – because that’s what this blog is all about.
We Will Rock You takes places in a dystopian future where manufactured pop music has pushed rock to the brink of extinction, turning everyone into annoying mind-slaves, like 1984 through the lens of Candy Crush. Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum) is one of the few who thinks for himself, mainly because his vivid dreams of music from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and today have made him crazy (irritating). He meets a like-minded girl who will come to be known as Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), and together they attempt to escape the totalitarian regime of Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her lackey Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith). The pair is picked up by the Bohemians, including Buddy (Ryan Knowles), Brit (Jared Zirilli), and Oz (Erica Peck) – the last bastions of rock, who believe Galileo to be the foretold musical savior.
If you think that story sounds stupid as hell, well you’re right. The plot is clearly intended to be campy, an appropriate legacy for the theatrical band that inspired the show. Some of it works, but so much more of it doesn’t.
First thing’s first: the music. The band sounded great, even sitting next to the speakers, but everytime an actor started singing, I just kept wishing I was listening to Freddy Mercury instead. It’s not necessarily a knock against the performers – they all have great voices – but these songs sound best coming out of Freddy’s mouth. The only song I really loved in the show was Peck’s rendition of “No-One But You,” though Griffith’s “Seven Seas of Rhye” was also quite enjoyable. At one point, the beginning of the real version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” started playing, and I was legitimately excited to listen to a recording for a moment.
Then there’s the story. The first act has a semblance of one, with a growing rebellion, etc., but I am hard-pressed to even describe what happens in act two. If I had to say something, I guess it would be “nothing.” The plot barely moves at all after the intermission, and then the show ends without anything actually happening. The musical just stops without any satisfying payoff, instead becoming a showcase for Crum’s biceps. And let’s talk about this Crum guy for a second. The charisma level is not high, but it is made up for by an astonishing amount of self-satisfaction. His demeanor is summed up by his curtain call. The entire ensemble is on stage, and Crum coolly walks back onstage. He quickly looks to the audience, bites his lower lip, and takes the bow that gives his life a semblance of meaning (that part I can identify with).
Some of that cheese does work, particularly when deployed by Griffith or Knowles, but so many of the “jokes” are derived from referencing song titles or musician names, or even just the mispronunciation of the words “video tape” (a video tape that it is heavily implied gets secreted away in one character’s anus during intermission – hilarious). These are not jokes – they are barely amusing – but the audience ate it up! I’m comfortable saying that, aside from someone’s grandson in the row behind us, my friend and I were the youngest people in the audience. These Olds went crazy for every reference and every airy joke aimed at Facebook or Twitter. These are the kind of people who can’t fathom the idea that the internet has done any good since it’s creation.
And that’s who We Will Rock You is for: out of touch folks who think society peaked in 1994. The kind of people who prefer to watch their entertainment passively. The kind of people who don’t see any irony in a bunch of musical theater actors talking about the real meaning of rock and roll. I guess I’m not one of those people. Maybe I’m a rebel. Maybe I’m a Bohemian.
Nope. I’m just a discerning individual. We Will Rock You is playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for another two weeks. See it, if you dare – though even discounted tickets may not net you your money’s worth.