Classic Rock Magazine
October, 2002 (page 114)
By Sian Llewellyn
Bad reviews, a dodgy script, stellar performances and some of the greatest rock music ever written add up to a great night out.
We Will Rock You
Dominion Theatre London
MONDAY NIGHT IS A NOTORIOUSLY BAD night to go to the theatre: the audience is usually lacklustre, and a little bit thin on the ground especially in these gloomy days of poor box-office. So imagine the surprise of rounding the corner to the Dominion Theatre and seeing a stack of people queuing for returns tickets, waiting patiently to see if they'll get lucky and be able to get what, against the critics' predictions, has turned into the hottest ticket in town.
We've mentioned the genesis and construction of the Queen show in this magazine before, but now it's time to look at We Will Rock You as an evening out or even as a gig, because that's what the atmosphere closely rivals.
The Dominion is crammed to the rafters and there are nearly 2,500 people equal parts denim-clad rockers and besuited theatre goers here to hear the music of Queen and see where the huge budget of 75 million quid has gone. And, one imagines, to find out what on earth all the fuss is about.
The lights dim, and there's a rumble so deep that you think the resonance is going to work your seat loose. A potted (and often hilarious) history of rock music is projected onto a black backdrop. And then the fun begins...
Exploding on to the vast, starkly lit stage, the white-and-neon clad ensemble launch into 'Radio Ga-ga' and the crowd it seems inappropriate to call them an audience goes nuts.
In a nutshell, the story concerns a future time where all music is created by computer, everything is sanctioned and homogenised by Globalsoft, and musical instruments and creativity is banned. The first meeting between our two young protagonists, Galileo (brilliantly portrayed by singer/songwriter Tony Vincent) and Scaramouche (played by Hannah Jane Fox, who instills her performance with feisty aggression and just a tinge of vulnerability), is rendered memorable by their impassioned rendition of 'Under Pressure', the combination of the male and female vocals working together well in an almost question-and-answer style.
Remember David Bowie and Annie Lennox performing the song at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert? Well, it has the same sort of power here.
Ignoring the technological gadgetry and laser shows, which while spectacular aren't the heart of the show, the key to the magic of WWRY is the strength of the music and the phenomenal cast that has been assembled. Despite opening with Nigel Planer (as an older version of Neil the hippy, from The Young Ones), the show is really carried by Tony Vincent, who has the charisma and the vocal talent to render the songs perfectly.
"People come here to hear Queen's songs, done as they know them," Vincent admits later. "I'm not here to interpret them my way or change melodies, I don't need to because they're so brilliant.
But the audience deserves to hear them in their purest form."
Alexander Hanson is suitably devilish (and the spitting image of Queen drummer Roger Taylor) as head of the secret police Khashoggi. His cleverly realised and quick-witted 'Don't Stop Me Now' duet with scene-stealer Killer Queen (Sharon D Clarke), along with his high-flying antics for 'Seven Seas Of Rye,' are real highlights. On paper it might seem strange to think of Queen songs being sung by a female voice, but Clarke puts her very heart into her performance with her soulful voice.
Queen's music so is well-established that even someone with only a casual interest in their music will find much to enjoy here, and will know almost every song. The star of the show certainly wasn't a die-hard Queen enthusiast before he took on the role: "Although I was familiar with some of Queen's material, I was never a huge fan," Vincent explains. "Only because I didn't really listen to heavy guitar rock music a great deal; I was into Depeche Mode and a lot of the new wave bands. I don't think Queen are as universally loved in America as they are here. We have everyone from grandparents to kids showing up and knowing every single song. It's incredible."
Yes it is. But it can also be particularly annoying when a person sitting in the row behind you insists on singing every single line throughout the show at just audible volume. Be aware of that when you go and try to keep your own singing inside your head. At least until the latter part of the show, when there's a definite turn in the atmosphere and a bit of karaoke is permitted.
Despite a good rapport between cast and audience being maintained throughout, towards the end of WWRY there is an unprecedented shift: "I'm very anxious that as soon as the characters come to the end of their journey, then the theatrical part of the show is done," Vincent explains. "That's when it's a rock'n'roll gig. I want to get people clapping, singing along and maybe even on their feet.
"At first I wasn't even sure that I should be encouraging it, as this is still a theatre. But I just went for it, and now we strive for it every night.
The last 20 minutes or so are a rock'n'roll gig."
That's a fair assessment. I've been to countless musicals, and while you may get people clapping along with the curtain call music, or even dancing in the aisles to the encore of ABBAs Mamma Mia, I have never seen seated theatre audience members, arms raised above their heads and swaying them, as they did to 'We Are The Champions'. And I swear there were lighters held aloft in the back of the auditorium.
"We've had a standing ovation every single night since We Will Rock You opened," Vincent says, still visibly stunned. The cast and band deserve it,too. Especially when you hear that closing number...