BWW Reviews: WE WILL ROCK YOU Carries on as if Nothing Really Matters
Some wonderful musicals have originated in England before hopping the pond to play in America. Most recently, the both excellent productions of Billy Elliot and Matilda, just to name a couple. With such a good track record (and a list that includes some of my favorites), I can't help but feel betrayed, then, when the West End hit (where it has been playing for over ten years) We Will Rock You rolled into Chicago on its first National Tour in America.
The jukebox musical using Queen songs is set in the future when the world is controlled by Globalsoft, a company that encourages internet use and discourages human interaction. In this world, music is dead, aside from the Globalsoft-approved computer-generated music. Our central character, Galileo Figaro, names himself after mysterious lyrics he hears in his head, lyrics that unwittingly make him a threat to Globalsoft. After breaking free of Globalsoft's society with a like-minded woman (who Galileo names Scaramouche, after proposing such other names as Honky Tonk Girl, Barenaked Lady, and P-P-P-Poker Face), the two discover a group of rebels, referred to as Bohemians, living in an old run-down Hard Rock Café. These Bohemians have gathered as much information as they can about what rock 'n' roll was and have devoted their lives to unearthing it. The Bohemians are sure they have found their "dreamer" in Galileo; the person who can unlock the key to restore rock music to the world.
It may sound as if the plot is just ridiculous enough to be able to give yourself over to its absurdity, but, unfortunately, the musical's book by Ben Elton (also responsible for the sloppy direction) is so asinine, it's impossible to relish in the ridiculous. The rules of logic set up in the world are broken multiple times, to a fault, often in favor of a cheap joke. Perhaps the worst offense of this occurs when, despite the fact that the Bohemians can barely piece together what rock 'n' roll is or what the rock legends did to earn their fame, they are all very well versed in who Miley Cyrus is, the fact that her television alias is Hannah Montana, and, that she is, now, known for her twerking.
Oh, yes, at one point, the entire cast breaks out into a reenactment of Miley Cyrus' now infamous twerking at this years' Video Music Awards. This was the moment that I officially lost all hope for the show. (The book, I should mention, has been updated from its original script, with references as recent as Katy Perry's "Roar.")
Elton's book is mostly constructed of Galileo conversing using the words he hears in his head, which, in actuality, are lyrics to songs of our time. Done sparingly, a few of these jokes might have landed well. However, the script is chock-full of them and, by the end of the first act, it almost feels insulting that Elton thought these jokes were all it would take to keep his audience satisfied (full disclosure: this assumption rang true for about half the audience who continued to laugh).
I also can't help but question why, after being told at the beginning of the show by one of the Bohemians that the end of rock 'n roll began with "something called 'American Idol'," the savior of rock 'n' roll, Galileo, is hearing lyrics to "Gangnam Style" and Lady Gaga songs (contemporary pop songs that are supposedly part of the reason rock 'n' roll died).
The remainder of the jokes are reserved for odd and out-of-place sexual references and puns (perhaps to accompany Arlene Phillips' messy and, equally as out-of-place, sexually-charged choreography).
I held out for the final moments of the show, however, thinking they, at least, would be worth seeing, as the entire plot is set around and obviously building up to "Bohemian Rhapsody." But then, the finale came, the bows were taken, and we had yet to hear the song. That is, until text on the projections asked us if we wanted to hear it and the cast came back out onstage and gave a concert-like performance of the song, separate from the storyline at hand. A missed opportunity to actually have one of Queen's songs find an appropriate place in the show. (We then had to sit through a second, almost full, curtain call.)
It must also be noted that for a show that rails against dependency on technology, the show's designers, Mark Fisher and Willie Williams, were quite reliant on just that for their set, using needless projections that were often more distracting than informing (or, in the case of the multiple clips of video games during "Another One Bites the Dust," simply confounding).