BWW Reviews: WE WILL ROCK YOU Not Too Deep But Lots of Fun

The notoriously harsh London critics predicted a very short lifespan for WE WILL ROCK YOU, a musical centered on the rock band Queen's hits, when it opened May 14, 2002 at the Dominion Theatre in London's West End. The Guardian felt the production came across as "ruthlessly packaged and manufactured," with its plot finding "more unlikely ways to wring out another Queen song" into the two and a half hour performance.

Over a decade later, the musical is still drawing them in at the Dominion, one of the largest theaters in the West End, as well as all over the world. It dethroned GREASE as the longest running musical at the over 2,100-seat venue. After successful tours of Australia, South Africa, Canada and Europe, WE WILL ROCK YOU is rolling through the United States. The flashy, campy musical began a five-day stint at Columbus' Palace Theatre on Jan. 7.

So who was right, the critics who panned the show or the fans who flocked to see it? WE WILL ROCK YOU is one of the rare occasions where both opposing sides' arguments have their merit. While writer Ben Elton's script often seems to be inventing new ways to squeeze in another Queen classic into a flimsy plot, the show's humor, solid performances and music left most of the Palace Theatre crowd satisfied.

Rock musicals seem to come in three genres: the narrative, the concept and the jukebox shows. The narrative shows (JERSEY BOYS or BUDDY for example) use the group's music to trace the history of the band. The concept performances, such as the Who's TOMMY or Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT, bring to life the band's vision of a concept album. Jukebox musicals such as MAMMA MIA! and WE WILL ROCK YOU build a plot around a collection of songs.

The patron sitting to my right said she expected WE WILL ROCK YOU to be more like a narrative. Asked if she was disappointed, she smiled and said "No, this is a lot of fun. It's different but it's fun."

Elton creates a world where a major corporation called Globalsoft has taken control of the fashion, the music and the entertainment industries of the iPlanet and forces everyone to conform to the will of the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her minion Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith). Naturally, things like independent thought, making non-manufactured musical and of course, are banished from the iPlanet and only a group of holdouts, the Bohemians, rebel against the Killer Queen's control.

"We're not sure who killed rock and roll, but I'm pretty sure it was something called 'American Idol,'" claims Buddy Holly, a Bohemian portrayed brilliantly by Ryan Knowles.

Only Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum), who hears bits and pieces of rock lyrics in his dreams, and his equally outcast friend Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), can lead the rebellion against the corporation and bring back rock-and-roll to the iPlanet.

WE WILL ROCK YOU is at its best when it is skewering pop culture. When Galileo is trying to explain where the phrases come from, he explains to Khashoggi "They just come into my head. I can't get no satisfaction. Help. I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody. Help." When Khashoggi stares disapprovingly, Galileo shrinks back in fear, muttering, "Oops. I did it again."

Elton reworked much of the script for American audiences before launching the tour in Baltimore last fall, so there are several jabs at Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

While Knowles gives the show its comedic edge, it is Crum and Lewis provide WE WILL ROCK YOU its soul. Crum does a solid job of handling Freddie Mercury's soaring vocals on "I Want To Break Free" and "Headlong." Lewis is perfectly cast as Scaramouche, Galileo's partner in crime. She impeccably conveys her character's reluctance as their friendship morphs into something more during "You're My Best Friend."

Erica Peck and Jared Zirilli also drive the show as Bohemian leaders "Oz" and "Brit." ("I took my name after one of the toughest names in all of rock-and-roll -- "Britney Spears," Zirilli explains.)The two deliver the goods on the upbeat anthem "I Want It All." Peck also showcases the musical's softer side when she leads the Bohemians in "No-One But You," a mournful ballad about rock's fallen heroes. It was one of the show's most poignant numbers.

While the script seems forced in parts, it was Queen's music and the light comedic touches that made WE WILL ROCK YOU an enjoyable performance. If you're looking for a meaningful examination of grace versus legalism, LES MISERABLES should be coming back around again soon. But if you're looking for foot-stomping, wave your hands in the air, rock concert-type fun, WE WILL ROCK YOU won't disappoint.

WE WILL ROCK YOU has six remaining shows at the Palace Theatre. It will be performed at 8 p.m. Jan. 9, 10 and 11, 2 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 12. To purchase tickets by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.

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From This Author Paul Batterson

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