National Tour Theater Review: WE WILL ROCK YOU (Ahmanson Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 17, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


The cast of the national tour of Queen and Ben Elton?s ?We Will Rock You,? which will play at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, July 15 through August 24, 2014. ?We Will Rock You? features music supervised by Queen?s Brian May and Roger Taylor.A huge West End hit for twelve years (just closing last May), this awful jukebox musical does for Queen what Mamma Mia! did for ABBA, Buddy for Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and Jersey Boys for The Four Seasons. But it’s much closer to the first example, if only because the silly plot is just a pretext to drop in a song. With a snarky script by comedian Ben Elton, the only payoff (if you can call it that) is the special 165-decibel delivery of Queen’s biggest hits — including “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Somebody to Love,” and the titular anthem. Elton, who also staged this junk, couldn’t figure out what to do with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” one of the greatest rock tunes ever written — and one which screams to be staged — so he just plopped it down after the curtain call.

L-to-R-Erica-Peck-Ruby-Lewis-Brian-Justin-Crum-Jared-Zirilli-in-WE-WILL-ROCK-YOU-THE-MUSICAL-by-QUEEN-and-Ben-Elton.Now at the Ahmanson Theatre, this touring production of We Will Rock You does offer very accurate nostalgia as it connects the anarchy of rock with the warrior ethos that can make rock sound like the most military of music. However, the irony is that the script decries American Idol and the excessive use of technological gadgets only to end up in a production which relies on powerhouse notes and an electronic light-show mentality to make its point. As such, We Will Rock You pays homage to both Classic Rock and the Dumbing Down of humanity. In addition, the bowel-pounding sound system renders most of the lyrics — some of which have been mutilated by Elton — unintelligible. What a shame that Queen, the pioneers of sophisticated heavy metal, glam rock, and stadium rock, didn’t see their music enshrined in an equally intelligent package.

The plot that stitches together the songs (by Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon) is a kind of mash-up of Road WarriorRent, and Footloose. The dystopian setting is a very commodified future: The all-controlling megacorporation GlobalSoft and the GaGa entertainment empire have taken over our “iPlanet,” cocooning it in virtual reality. A sort of Internet anesthesia has subdued dissent and individuality with interchangeable movies, clothes, and thoughts. The ultimate crime is “anti-social-media behavior.” Music is strictly forbidden, even instruments — though absurdly that doesn’t stop the songs from continuously coming from either side of the struggle.

Ruby-Lewis-Brian-Justin-Crum-in-WE-WILL-ROCK-YOU-THE-MUSICAL-by-QUEEN-and-Ben-EltonIt’s up to the breakaway faction of Bohemians holed up in the abandoned Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas to reinvent rock as they bizarrely assume the names of long-gone rock stars. This band of hopeful roadies and groupies are inspired and led by two anti-heroes: Goth girl and one-note anti-social whiner Scaramouche (Ruby Lew) and her occasionally uncertain but always egotistical and hunky new lover, Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum), both of whom escaped from Globalsoft’s police commander, Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith), after being arrested for being anomalies. Galileo is haunted by mental blasts from the past of stuff like a “yellow submarine” and “blue suede shoes” upon which you must not step. (In the dozens of international productions, the story, song line-up, and some of the characters’ names change depending on the target audience and media trends. This incarnation has the supposed death of Britney Spears and the almost obligatory reference to “twerking” and Miley Cyrus, as well as the addition of a new song, “You’re My Best Friend.”)

"Jacqueline B. Arnold in the national tour of Queen and Ben Elton?s ?We Will Rock You,? which will play at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, July 15 through August 24, 2014. ?We Will Rock You? features music supervised by Queen?s Brian May and RThese signs from Galileo’s dreams of a lost rock legacy lure the lovers and their (non-Facebook) followers to the gates of Graceland where, with the rediscovery of Elvis’s electric guitar, rock finally and easily triumphs over standardized mediocrity — at least in the future, not here. Even with a talented cast and a nine-piece band that performs like gangbusters, mediocrity reigns.

Imaginative costumes by Tim Goodchild, hi-tech lighting by Willie Williams, cunning flying sets by Mark Fisher, and vibrant video backdrops depict both extremes of this dysfunctional realm: The sleek boardroom; laser interrogation cages; the flamboyant boudoir of the ruler of Globalsoft Corporation, Killer Queen (Jaqueline B. Arnold doing the requisite black thang); and the wasteland peopled by freedom-fighting would-be rockers Oz (Erica Peck, completely wasted in “No One But You”), Brit (Jared Zirilli, flexing muscles more than character), and Buddy (riotous Ryan Knowles), all of whom go above and beyond the call of rock. It is Arlene Phillips’ musical staging, including vogueing and cyberpunk jerking, that brings life to this abattoir of Queen’s legacy, not Elton’s unimaginative direction, which often has actors walking back and forth in search of motivation more than that electric guitar.

The cast of the national tour of Queen and Ben Elton’s WE-WILL-ROCK-YOU-THE-MUSICAL

Depending on who you are, We Will Rock You will either insult you with its inanity or suck you up like a Hoover. Some patrons were waving their glow sticks (placed on arm rests before the show), drunk on familiarity. Others talked or hooted during the show as if this was the taping of a 70s’ sit-com, and one man behind me sang loudly and off-pitch, high on Mercury. Everybody loves Queen, so this is a show that is singing to the converted; why try harder? It’s the modern musical settling for that crazy little thing called stupidity. Here, the band and ensemble are the real champions. Another one bites the dust, indeed.

Erica Peck and Jared Zirilli in the national tour of Queen and Ben Elton?s ?We Will Rock You,? which will play at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, July 15 through August 24, 2014. ?We Will Rock You? features music supervised by Queen?s Brian Maphotos by Paul Kolnik

We Will Rock You
Queen Theatrical and Tribeca Theatrical Productions
Phil McIntyre Entertainment and NETworks Presentations
presented by Center Theatre Group
Ahmanson Theatre, 601 W Temple St.
ends on August 24, 2014
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cris Franco July 17, 2014 at 11:45 am

Thanks for the precise and informative review, Mr. Frankel. Sounds like another ominous downward step in the decline of the musical theatre. Scary. Your review could have well been titled, WE WILL HAUNT YOU.


Jeanette July 17, 2014 at 11:59 am

LOL…yes the script sucked but he wrote it in one day…
However, come on, that finale was worth the whole thing!
and…ya gotta love Queen!


Vahan Dede July 23, 2014 at 10:42 am

I enjoyed the show. Script was weird but music was good. Great cast. I’ve seen it 3 times already.


Mike D July 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I agree with this reviewer (I type this as I sit watching).
Looks like a schlock Disney theater at Disneyland.
I’m hoping for an epileptic seizure from the strobe lights so I can be taken away.
However, the lead female’s vocals are awesome.


Bobbie McCormack August 9, 2014 at 10:39 am

I couldn’t stand it. It reminded me of a cartoon, just about any cartoon. The dialogue would fit into any sitcom. What was missing was the canned laughter that would come after every lame line was shouted or lame character introduced. I stuck it out until intermission, and waited in the lobby for my husband. Bleah!


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