BWW Interview: Jeff Parry, Producer of WE WILL ROCK YOU at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place Des Arts
Jeff Parry was raised in Ottawa, ON. His love of music began when he was 9 years old when he fell in love with The Beatles. He has always had a passion for. music, so after University, he moved out west to try to raise money to open a record store in Ottawa. He wound up staying in Alberta and rather than open a record store, in 1978, he started a concert promotion business, producing tribute shows. That evolved into becoming an agent and ultimately, a theatrical producer. I had the chance to speak with Parry on the eve of the Montreal run of the award winning musical, WE WILL ROCK YOU, a jukebox musical based on the songs of British rock band Queen with a book by Ben Elton, which lands at Place des Arts in Montreal on February 10.
HANNIBAL: Was there anything in particular that drew you to the concert promotion business and producing tribute shows?
PARRY: It really goes back, quite honestly, to a band I hated, ABBA. I got a chance to do BJORN AGAIN, which is a tribute to ABBA in Australia and the UK. I saw the experience people had of seeing music they loved performed really, really well. It made people who had never seen ABBA say, "wow, there is really something to this." We ended up doing THE PINK FLOYD EXPERIENCE, which my friend Rubin Fogel in Montreal brought to Place des Arts. Then we did The Beatles show, RAIN and LET IT BE. Those were "tributes," but I call them "experiences." RAIN and LET IT BE wound up going to Broadway and The West End, so it really became much more than a tribute. After that, I wanted to get into book musicals, per se. The first one was JUKEBOX HERO, which was our first attempt at a book musical. We tried it out a couple of years ago in Alberta and last year in Toronto. We are in rewrites for that. Then I had the opportunity to do WE WILL ROCK YOU. We are no longer part of the "tribute" world, although LET IT BE AND RAIN are still part of our platform. In general, we are moving towards book musicals.
HANNIBAL: How did you come to produce WE WILL ROCK YOU?
PARRY: I was in New York trying to get the rights to a Johnny Cash show, RING OF FIRE. I walked into a meeting with the licensing agency for that show and was told, "well, you can't have that, but you can have WE WILL ROCK YOU." I've always thought that show could work as a one or two nighter, more of a rock show. Once I got the rights, I started hearing a little bit about the movie BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. I got totally lucky with that. That movie has helped us immeasurably.
HANNIBAL: Since you are a part of the Broadway community, do you have a favourite show?
PARRY: The one that always hits me between the eyes is LES MIZ. That's the real deal. We just did WE WILL ROCK YOU for 5 or 6 shows in November at Madison Square Garden. I had the opportunity to see a bunch of shows and they blew my mind. HADESTOWN is phenomenal. It's hard to go in and see an original musical and like the music right away, but right off the bat I thought, "wow. This is great music." The one that kind of blew my mind, which I didn't expect, was JAGGED LITTLE PILL. That's such an example of a well written show. That album was 25 years ago, but the story is contemporary. It was so compelling. There is so much depth to it. You couldn't write it unless you were going through it. I hope to see more shows like it. It's so inspiring. I hope we can bring JUKEBOX HERO to that level.
HANNIBAL: Tell me a little about this production of WE WILL ROCK YOU.
PARRY: We built this show in Calgary. Getting to do it at Madison Square Garden is kinda cool! We tried to use as many Calgary and Alberta actors as possible. 70-80% or our cast and crew is from Calgary/Alberta. That's the biggest buzz. Seeing these people that never thought they'd have this kind of opportunity get to play Madison Square Garden is great. Now that we are back in Canada, everywhere we go, there seems to be a local hero in the cast. It's been a really cool experience.
We have the Mayor coming out to see the show and I have a meeting with the council, trying to get some support. I mean, without Rene Levesque, there wouldn't have been any Cirque de Soleil. We are trying to build a bigger theatre community. I'm working with Theatre Calgary on some stuff. La Jolla Playhouse is the model. Going to La Jolla is a stamp to get to Broadway. We are trying to build something like that here. Ironically, The Citadel Theatre out in Edmonton did SIX last year and they are doing THE ELVIS SHOW for us this summer. It makes sense to build a show in Canada, which is what we did with WE WILL ROCK YOU, and then tour it all over The States. You can use the dollar to your advantage and opportunity to your advantage. That's our model.
With the recent Oscar-winning film, Bohemian Rhapsody, the music of Queen is more popular than ever. In 2002, many of those hits were compiled into a rock musical experience, We Will Rock You, which recently hit the road once again for a North American tour, which kicked off on September 3rd in Winnipeg.
We Will Rock You follows two revolutionaries, Galileo and Scaramouche, on a quest to save rock n' roll in a post-apocalyptic world, where there are no musical instruments and where rock n' roll has died. They join a small group of societal outcasts, the Bohemians, as they fight to take back the iPlanet from the all-powerful Globalsoft, led by the Killer Queen. They fight for freedom, individuality and the rebirth of rock 'n roll.
While We Will Rock You is a quirky, eccentric and heartfelt story of outsiders, it's also a creative cautionary tale for the cyberage. It reflects the scale and spectacle that marked Queen's live performances and earned the band its pinnacle position in rock history. This event rocks as fiercely as Queen's best concerts !
Since 2002, more than 16 million theatregoers in 19 countries have experienced this awe-inspiring production, based on the music of Queen and the book by Ben Elton (The Young Ones, Blackadder, Popcorn). The original West End production featured the music supervision of Brian May and Roger Taylor, and Elton fashioned this futuristic story around more than 24 of Queen's greatest hits, including We Are the Champions, Radio Ga Ga, I Want to Break Free, Somebody to Love, Killer Queen, Don't Stop Me Now, Under Pressure, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites the Dust and of course, We Will Rock You.
WE WILL ROCK YOU runs February 10-12, 2019 at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, Place des Arts, 175 Saint-Catherine St W, Montreal, Quebec H2X 3X5. Tickets are available by calling (514) 842-2112 or visiting placedesarts.com