Queen songs ill-served in 'We Will Rock You'

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2013 - 11:33 AM

REVIEW: The musical “We Will Rock You” winds a thin story around the British band Queen's hits.

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"We Will Rock You" stars Ruby Lewis as Scaramouche and Brian Justin Crum as Galileo.

“We Will Rock You,” the musical built around the music of the band Queen, is vapid and soulless. The show, which opened Tuesday in Minneapolis, has a capable cast of buff singer-actors, but even they cannot redeem what is a loud but ultimately lame effort.

The major failing of “We Will Rock You” begins at conception. Queen’s songs themselves are theatrical and easy to nod along to. But the story, crafted by Ben Elton, is thin and poorly written.

Unlike jukebox musicals such as “Mamma Mia!,” (music of Abba) or “Jersey Boys” (The Four Seasons), the book of “We Will Rock You” does not advance the music, and vice versa. Instead, it seems, the narrative is crafted simply to get to numbers such as “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and, of course, the sports anthem title track.

It probably would have been a more honest undertaking if the creative team admitted its purpose up front, gathered some fabulous singers, and created a Queen tribute band. That approach may not have been as lucrative, but they would still retain some integrity.

“We Will Rock You” is set in an Orwellian future when one corporation, GlobalSoft, controls all thoughts, music is pre-programmed and people are unimaginative automatons.

But there is a dreamer out there, a clean-cut savior named Galileo (Brian Justin Crum). He hears ancient rock, pop and rap lyrics in his sleep. The melodic fragments call to him as emblems of individuality and freedom. He meets up with other rebels, including love interest Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). All are persecuted by the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B . Arnold) and her henchman, Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith).

The cast delivers with as much presence as can be mustered. Crum looks like a J. Crew model but has a feral edge, vocally. Lewis sounds a little inexperienced in her songs but has major attitude.

Arnold sings “Another One Bites The Dust” with the same phrasing as Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen. And that’s part of the problem with this production. The songs are not rearranged to serve the show that has references to twerking, Tweeting and the Jonas Brothers (are they still hip?).

“We Will Rock You” uses the iconography of rock, including the silhouetted guitar hero and a Harley Davidson motorcycle for riding off into the sunset.

It also taps other unoriginal imagery. The opening scene, in which automatons move in lockstep, suggests something ripped off from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” The rebel colony, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, looks like a leftover scene from “Rent.”

A fan of Queen is glad to hear the songs again, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is done as the encore. But the British band deserves better than this.

 

Rohan Preston • rohan.preston@startribune.com • 612-673-4390

  • WE WILL

    ROCK YOU

    Who: Music and lyrics by Queen. Book by Ben Elton. Directed by Christopher Renshaw.

    Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun.

    Tickets: $49-$109, 1-800-982-2787 or www.hennepintheatretrust.org.

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