We Will Rock You, brings the legendary music of Queen to the theatrical stage whilst being entwined with the comedic genius of Ben Elton (The Young Ones, Blackadder). In its eighteenth year of production, the script has been kept relevant to the pitfalls of today’s society whilst not losing the magic of its original narrative.
In 1991 we lost one of the most, if not the greatest vocalists and charismatic wonders of Rock N Roll. Freddie Mercury was a powerhouse and one of the most flamboyant showmen to have ever graced the stage, his monstrous vocals and ability to command a stage are second to none. I was intrigued if not a little nervous to see how the cast would take on their roles and how comfortably they would sit into some of the toughest musical ensembles within the world of Rock, I have to say I was not disappointed. This was one of the greatest productions I have seen and I do not say that lightly, having lived in Manchester, England for thirty years I have seen a variety of theatrical performances at The Manchester Opera House and Manchester Palace Theatre, this production right here in Perth, Australia by an all Western Australian cast was one of the most heartfelt, emotional and well executed that I have had the pleasure to see.
We Will Rock You is set in a dystopian point in the future where conformity is the only acceptable answer, everyone must wear the same clothing, think and act the same, and music is forbidden to the point that ‘Rock N Roll’ is a phrase unknown to the masses. This future atrocious land called iPlanet, is run by the Dictator CEO of ‘Globalsoft’, she is Killer Queen (Paula Parore), a self-enhanced half human-half pixelated creation of wonder, well, in her eyes! She strives with her Commander, Khashoggi(Dean Misdale) to wipe out all know traces of individuality and freedom. A handful of rebels known as The Bohemians, led by Buddy (Jamie Mercanti) and The Rebel Leader (Sooz Bennett) are the only hope to let Rock regain its rightful place and allow the liberty of choice to wear leather jackets, black jeans and plaid flannel in a world of GagaGirls and BoyZone clones. Two outcasts wake from their conformity, a Dreamer called Galileo Figaro (Blake Williams) and Scaramouche(Holly Denton), they break free from the restraints of conformism and trail the wastelands finding The Bohemians to set up a narrative that amasses three hours of musical comedy.
As we open to a timeline of what has happened in prior years, we hit an all too familiar moment of ‘2020 Live Shows Cancelled’ a stark reminder that we are in the midst of an unsettling widespread problem (I’m not going to use the C word as I want to keep this light hearted and keep our spirits up). Then as the next screen is illuminated, a huge cheer erupts, it reads ‘2022 – McGowan voted Prime Minister of Westralia’, the love for him is clearly strong in the Theatre, it’s understandable as this is currently one of, if not the only Theatre Production that is on in the world.
We are quickly drawn amongst great applause from the audience to Buddy Holly & The Crickets (Jamie Mercanti) our Narrator who brings us up to speed with the days of past and the current scenario, his accent flawlessly honing that south cockney feel that echoes Ben Elton and the productions homely beginnings. ‘Radio Gaga’ is fired onto the stage by The Gaga Kids displaying the imagery and direction of Una Genuino (Choreographer) and Joe Louis Robinson (Musical Director), with dancers and vocalists synchronized in a showcase of what was to follow.
As the two outcasts meet it is clear to see why Blake Williams has played the role of Galileo for the last three years, his vocal range and strength are a clear compliment to his acting abilities, both of which are continued throughout the show. A clear cut favourite with the crowd especially during the Bright Star scene where he takes on Freddie’s well known ‘Ayyyy-Oh’, his finale lengthy note hold was perfect in tone and attack. Holly Denton in the role of Scaramouche for her third year, is unwavering in her execution of her character. Playing a sarcastic and feisty lady who is at times a little vulnerable, commanded the stage like a seasoned professional, holding back on a few of the softer songs, she made no apologies for her powerful delivery of ‘Hammer To Fall’, a firm favourite of mine in this set.
As we entered the nightmare headquarters of ‘Globalsoft’, the harmonies of The Yuppies effortlessly began one of Queen’s biggest hits ‘Killer Queen’ to the backing of the house band lead by Joe Louis Robinson on keys. Following the chorus was the spectacular that I had been waiting for, Killer Queen portrayed by Paula Parore, I was not let down. To put it bluntly, Paula has a set of pipes on her, the grit and diaphragm control within her is a testament to her time within the industry from the heavier style of ‘Killer Queen’ to the softer higher elements of ‘Play The Game’, she easily made the songs her own. She brought a flair and sensuality to a pixelated character that enabled the audience to relate and embrace.
A notable element to the show was chemistry amongst the cast members both during songs and the acting, this was quite apparent between Killer Queen and Khashoggi. Khashoggi played by Dean Misdale was a notable character change for him, having played Killer Queen in the last two years of WWRY, he brought a flavoured element to Khashoggi giving the character a depth and sincerity that I hadn’t seen in prior versions.
Enter the most comedic duo of the show Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne, that’s a sentence I never thought I would type out! Clay Darius brought home the role of Brit and man was he hilarious, his natural Kiwi style, flair and humour brought this character to life but not one to sit back and rest on a strong comedic performance he belted out ‘I Want It All’. His gusto and attack a subtle reminder that Clay can back his acting up with a powerful vocal ability.
As Parore had stepped up to the role of Killer Queen for this show it gave her understudy Lisa Woodbrook chance to shine in the position of Oz, she did not shy away from her duties. Her rendition of ‘No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)’ was a flawless and emotional transcendent journey, it certainly left me with a tear or two. I’m not crying, you are!
The narration on WWRY is delivered by the main cast for the most part but two characters are pivotal to the understanding of the story, those are brought by Buddy and the Rebel Leader. The Rebel Leader was taken on by Sooz Bennett, the wee lass behind the bar at The Hard Rock Café, the leader of The Bohemians. Bennett is a firecracker on stage bringing in a serious but humorous Scottish element to the rebel, her commanding presence and accent hammering home the reminder that we as a society need to fight for our right to rock and have Freedom!!!!! And yes, she did shout Freedom in that same ‘Mel Gibson’/‘William Wallace’, ‘Braveheart’ moment that had the audience cheering for Rock. Bennett and Mercanti had a great on-stage chemistry throughout the scenes and dance numbers, it gave the characters more depth and relatability to two roles which transition and hold many scenes together.
Amongst the crew were notable favourites with the crowd, Mad-D (Ash Schofield),Katy P (Andrew Milner) and Ian Mulholland (Headmaster, Bohemian) as the Quartet beginning ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The comedic value throughout was interspersed with one line shout outs to the greats in Rock N Roll and references to various pop culture moments.
I grew up listening to Queen, they were one of my Dad’s favourite bands so it was always on in the house, from the Albums on Vinyl to the live shows on the VI-Deo Ta-pes (VHS), so I like every other Queen fan have my favourite songs, my all-time favourite is ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’. I’ve seen this song attempted unsuccessfully many times over the years, its an intricate masterpiece. It needs to be attacked with guts and confidence whilst giving it the respect its due, Dean Misdale took Khashoggi to a new level with his delivery and gave the song the justice it deserves. The band executed it perfectly without issue or any aspect of over play. Hats off to you all for this, this is one Queen fan who is very impressed and also a new Dean Misdale fan.
Throughout I felt the house band and sound design (Jordan Gibbs) complimented the levels of the vocals, the tight rhythm section of Manoli Vouyoucalos (Bass) and Alexander Barker (Drums) who took on the parts of Roger Taylor and John Deacon who were arguably the greatest rhythm section we have had the pleasure to grace our stages in rock. Layered atop this Shayne Savic and Jarrad Van Dort took on the roles of Brian May on guitar, hitting all those solos and breakdowns that we have headbanged to for many years (thanks Wayne’s World). Simon Gray complimented Joe Louis Robinson on keys to finalise that ‘Freddie’ feel that we know so well.
The stage design (Trevor Patient) fit seamlessly with the costume design (Katrina Patient, Leah Andrews) and visual effects (Rory Henderson) in a show that is spanning its eighteenth year, this production crew have maintained a stage show that is true to its original whilst remaining relevant to our current times. This is a testament to Director/Producer, Trevor Patient and Producer/Artistic Director, Katrina Patient and their effortless work to bring this masterpiece to The Crown Theatre.
I would like to add in that this was one of the only nights on the tour where every member of the cast was from Western Australia, which in itself shows the homegrown talent that we have here.
In closing, I would like to say a massive thank you to all the cast and crew of We Will Rock You. You brought the vision of Ben Elton to life and in doing so bestowed Perth, Australia with an extravaganza that will not be forgotten.
What a memory to have, people coming together in great times of difficulty to pay homage to Rock N Roll and the formidable presence that Freddie Mercury was to the world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an overwhelming urge to go and watch Flash Gordon and Highlander.
Review conducted for The Rockpit, Australia 28 November 2020
Photo Credit: Amanda Humphreys Photography