What do you do when the music of a band you love is being used to structure a jukebox musical? Worse, what do you do when everyone you’ve ever talked to said it was a bad, bad show? That is the quandary I’ve faced for many a year with We Will Rock You, and the choice I’ve made is just to skip it. That is, until a friend had a spare ticket to the Halloween matinee on a day I had nothing else going on. Hey, what better excuse to dress up like a pirate and listen to music by one of my favorite bands ever played live on the big speakers? If it really sucked, I could just leave, or get a bigger drink at the interval.
I actually didn’t know much about the plot other than that it was set in some kind of dystopian future (aren’t they all!) that provided an excuse to use “Radio Gaga” and have a black woman in a fright wig play the “Killer Queen.” I’m going to detour from actually capturing the plot (such as it is) to muse on where this show missed out. In this future world, all music is provided to people by channels controlled by the government (the “Radio Gaga”), a future we could easily slip into as record labels get more aggressive about controlling the distribution of music and copyright laws become a club to punish “the little guy” rather than a tool to help an artist benefit from his or her work. So a world in which people have to covertly act to make/share music that’s not approved by The Powers That Be … that’s a powerful story. But somehow this is whittled down to a world in which people can’t create music because there are no more musical instruments. Hello, singing? It seems to have been entirely forgotten as an option.
And the Killer Queen. Any science fiction fan is familiar with the work of William S Gibson, who way back in Idoru posited a world in which online personalities could become “real.” This is the origin of the Killer Queen character, but do her interesting origins make for anything other than a good excuse for her quislings to clean her apartment in uniform fake spandex maids’ costumes while she threatens them with a whip? Sadly, no.
Instead, we’re given a mentally underpowered “hero” (rather like Neo in The Matrix) who randomly spouts out lyrics from old songs while trying to figure out how he can find the last ever electric guitar. He does this aided by a girl who starts out looking like a genuine Goth In High School, proudly refusing to wear the bright colors and body con clothes favored by her peers … but once they meet “The Underground,” she completely loses her resistance to peer pressure and becomes liberated enough to dress like a tart, only in spikes and leather instead of florescent spandex. Sigh. At least she’s good at using computers.
The whole thing ultimately seemed to me like an excuse to make puns and plot twists so as to pull in as many references to Queen Songs as possible – of course they have to take a bicycle to get to Wembley Stadium – it really just made me want to cringe. I started out really excited by the nice robot-y science fiction zentai-ness of the early scenes, but it just went downhill and refused to stop long after I’d lost my interest in what was going on. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy myself for at least half an hour, but this show needs a good twenty minutes cut out and a serious rethink of the set design. It was all so sadly dated, and performed by people who were adequate but not one of them a super-singing star. Ah well. It did prompt me to put some Queen on my phone at long last, and I did, er, get my money’s worth, and nobody cared that I was dressed like a pirate, in part, I think, because when I sang along, I was on key, unlike the seven drunk people three rows behind me who made the first act a complete hassle to sit through.
(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on October 31st, 2013. It’s booking into forever.)