Canberra is currently in the grip of “Queen” Fever, almost as virulent as the “Abba” epidemic which infected the city in January when the 2018 Australian revival tour of Mamma Mia premiered here. With Bohemian Rhapsody playing at every cinema in town, Ben Elton’s wonderfully silly excuse to exploit the Queen repertoire, We Will Rock You, is given a spectacular pro-am arena production by Peewee Productions which does full justice to both the show and the music which inspired it.
With a towering multi-dimensional set, hung it seems, with every intelligent light in existence, with huge LED screens displaying video content from the original UK production in dazzling high definition, and sound that you feel as much as you hear, this production threatens to blow the roof off the cavernous AIS arena.
Three professional guest artists, Toby Francis (Kinky Boots, High Fidelity), Queenie Van de Zandt (King Kong, Funny Girl) and Erin Clare (GFO’s We Will Rock You, Phantom of the Opera) all former Canberrans, returned to head a cast of outstanding Canberra performers, for this production which rivals the best arena productions seen previously in Canberra.
Director Kelda McManus has marshalled her huge resources impressively ensuring that the focus on the storyline is clearly maintained, and that each witty line of Elton’s script is clearly heard. Her fastidiousness is rewarded with gales of laughter throughout the performance. Equally, the excellent sound design allowed Musical Director, Andrea Clifford-Jones and her top-notch rock band achieve a stunning “Queen” sound without sacrificing clarity for volume.
Set in a future where music is banned on planet earth, and history is recorded through Johnny Farnham retirements, planet earth is now run by the corporation, Global Soft, and ruled by Killer Queen (Queenie van de Zandt) and her henchman, Khashoggi (Max Gambale). Everyone wears the same fashions, watches the same movies, and thinks the same thoughts. Musical instruments are banned and company computers generate tunes which everybody downloads. Hits are scheduled years in advance.
Our hero, Galileo, (Toby Francis) is puzzled by the long lost pop and rock lyrics he hears in his head and wants to escape this world. With the help of his cockney-speaking girl-friend, Scaramouche, (Erin Clare), and encouraged by an old rocker, Buddy (David Cannell), he sets out on a mission to rediscover rock and roll.
Along the way they meet up with a rebel tribe of bohemians, all of whom are named after long dead pop and rock stars including Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Madonna. Brit (Dave Smith) and his girlfriend Oz (Samantha Marceddo) are the leaders of the Bohemians, who, on hearing Galileo quote some of his lyrics, decide he could well be the Messiah who could change their world forever.
You don’t need to know any more because this delightfully silly premise, as imagined by Elton, with wicked references to prominent contemporary entertainers as historical artefacts, serves as a remarkably entertaining vehicle on which to hang the best of the Queen repertoire, here, wonderfully performed by a terrific cast with the vocal chops to do each song justice.
Toby Francis (Scaramouche) is in fine voice and perfectly teamed with Erin Clare, (Scaramouche), revisiting her acclaimed performance from the 2016 Ben Elton directed, GFO production which toured nationally. Both have phenomenal voices perfectly suited to their roles.
Queenie van de Zandt chews up the scenery as Killer Queen with a delicious tongue-in-cheek performance as she prowls the stage demolishing Killer Queen, Fat Bottomed Girls and Another One Bites the Dust. She receives great support from Max Gambale as her henchman, Khashoggi.
Reveling in his role as the kilt-wearing bikie, Britney Spears, Dave Smith, and Samantha Marceddo as his Bohemian sidekick, Oz, both give scene-stealing performances, as does David Cannell as the old rocker, Buddy. Full marks also to the hard-working all-singing, all-dancing ensemble which copes with the multiple costume changes and Nikole Neal’s clever, robotic choreography, with impressive aplomb.
Following its Canberra performances, this ambitious production moves in its entirety to Wollongong for three performances, adding another tick to its already impressive list of achievements by making it the first Canberra arena production to tour outside the region.
We Will Rock You – The Arena Spectacular
AIS Arena, 26 Leverrier Street, Bruce (Canberra)
Performance: Thursday 8 November 2018
WIN Entertainment Centre, Corner Crown and Harbour Streets, Wollongong
Performances: 16 – 17 November 2018
For more information, visit: www.peeweeproductions.com.au for details.
Image: Samantha Marceddo (Oz) and Dave Smith (Brit) feature in We Will Rock You – photo by Ben Appleton
Review: Bill Stephens OAM