Last night We Will Rock You: The Musical by Queen and Ben Elton rolled into the Andrew Jackson Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). The musical originally opened on West End, London’s answer to NYC’s Broadway, in 2002. The Dominion Theatre, the show’s original home in London, has had the show for 11 years and is its longest running production, still on stage today. Since then it has toured all over the World, with stops in every major city. Now, they can put Music City, USA on that list as well.
The musical may not be new, but for those of you (like me) who have never heard of it, I’ll give a synopsis. We begin in a futuristic time when the entire World lives on the internet. Earth has been renamed iPlanet, and is governed by the empire Globalsoft. The supreme ruler, “Killer Queen,” wants supreme power, to be able to control every move everyone makes. All the students at a college that is never given a name, but is obviously ran by the Globalsoft corporation, listen to the “Computer Recorded Auto-tune Pop” (guess what acronym that makes) on Radio Gaga. All musical instruments are banned. All the kids in this graduating class are the same, possessing the same thoughts and wearing the same clothes, all except for two black-sheep. Galileo Figaro, our hero in this Orwellian story, hears things in his head. He doesn’t know what they are, but has a feeling that there is much more than what the Killer Queen and Globalsoft are giving them. Our heroine, who earns the name Scaramouche, is also an outsider. She just wants to find somebody to love, who understands her. She is different from all other other Gaga kids, dressing in gothic attire. They are both arrested by the commander of Globalsoft’s police force, Khashoggi for refusing to conform.
The Killer Queen is made aware of a group of rebels, nicknamed (what else but) The Bohemians. They are out to revive the legend of Rock and Roll and free everyone from the grips of conformity. They have a prophecy, that one day, a dreamer will arise and lead them all to the place where the king sleeps at the place of the living rock, pull out the mighty axe, and bring back the vibes of Rock and Roll. Khashoggi is ordered to bring down The Bohemians and restore order on the planet.
Meanwhile, Galileo and Scaramouche escape Khashoggi’s custody and take to the streets, where the meet up with Brit and Oz, members of The Bohemians, who, after some lengthy questioning, take them back to their hideout, (where else but) The Las Vegas Hard Rock Café. There, The Bohemians take them in and teach them the ways of Rock and Roll, just before Khashoggi comes in and arrests all of them. But don’t worry, the power of rock and roll will take you into act two, where more music and this crazy storyline continue.
The production that is currently traveling the US is weighted down with talent. The musical quality in this show is unmatched in anything I’ve seen in ages. Brian Justin Crum, Galileo, and Ruby Lewis, Scaramouche, are some of the most amazing singers I’ve ever heard in a musical. Oz, played by Erica Peck, moved the crowd with her rendition of “No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young).” When Lewis sang “Somebody to Love,” I was flabbergasted. Crum was amazing all night, performing in most of the songs, holding notes that were as long as it takes to get from Belle Meade to Downtown in rush hour traffic. I was completely blown away by the sheer amounts of talent. And you can’t forget the Killer Queen, played by Jacqueline B. Arnold, whose version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” blew the crowd away. The cast was amazing. I was very well pleased.
This musical is dripping with camp. From the costuming (Killer Queen was SICKENING!) to the writing, it is just loaded down with ridiculous amounts of camp. It is trying to make another Rocky Horror Picture Show. I see what this is and I am calling you on it. It is Queen’s answer to Rocky. It sort of reminded me of a wicked nightmare I'd have after eating too much Taco Bell before bedtime, something I do occasionally for that very reason. Sometimes, you're just in the mood to see what kind of crazy your head can come up with.
Campy shows can really go either way. You can have horror stories like Rock of Ages, or you can have treasures, such as Hairspray. Every major musical has a touch of it. What makes the difference for most people is if you can slip it in without anyone really noticing, by just making it adorable and charming as opposed to hardcore and dominating. Rock and Roll tends to be hardcore and dominating. This show was a bit to take. They tried to soften it down with characters like Buddy, but I don’t think it was enough. It was just a lot to take in.
It could have been much worse. What saved the night for me was the cast. Killer Queen with her costuming was something I just adored. It made me think of Venus Anne Serena from Play Dance Bar. She had capes instead of dresses, metallic studs where most would put rhinestones, boobs present and accounted for, and hair high enough to brush Jesus’ chin. One small problem was that, for both Killer Queen and Khashoggi, when they were shown on screens, you could see their wig cap lines. Maybe that is something that should be looked into. If you didn’t know what they were, you could have thought that their skin had ripped on their foreheads. It looked cheap and could be easily fixed with some extra glue and a touch of makeup.
Crum has several acting credits listed, including an episode of Law and Order: SVU, which is pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the fact that Lewis made an appearance on Desperate Housewives, my favorite show of all time. She’s also a graduate of Western Kentucky University, just up the road in Bowling Green. She’s sort of the home-town girl I suppose. Jacqueline B. Arnold was in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, on Broadway, and played Motormouth MayBelle on the national tour of Hairspray. All three are very talented and make the show memorable for me.
My rating: B+