We Will Rock You is the latest musical show to grace the stage of The Isaac Theatre Royal, and it keeps its promise, you will be rocked.
By Emma Dyer
We Will Rock You is a story about rebellion, set to the music of Queen, with outrageous futuristic or punk costumes, and an endless supply of music references and jokes. You don’t have to be a Queen fan but it definitely doesn’t hurt to be a fan of pop music culture because the jokes will be that much funnier. Exhibit Brit, a rather rough and tough male character who proudly identifies his full chosen name is “Britney Spears”. With gags like that you know that you’re in for a good time.
Listening to this show it isn’t hard to remember why they still call Freddie Mercury a genius. The range of songs that Queen has given the world is why the entire list of musical numbers [in the musical] can be made up of their work. There are 23 different Queen songs in this show, most of them so perfect a band would be lucky just to produce one in their career. While it would be hard to pick a favourite you could do worse than Killer Queen or the show closer (which they really make you beg for) Bohemian Rhapsody.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a bunch of jokes, excellent music, and more leather than a field full of cows. There is a serious message here. In a time where we are really questioning the massive amount of power that a few internet giants hold over our lives this really is a story of what the future could look like if we let it. It is outrageous and at times almost cartoonish, but it could be our future. The gags might take things to extremes, evil villain Killer Queen’s hair or the white and rather distressingly tight outfits of the “Gaga Kids”, but there is still a strong undercurrent of truth. For decades the music of Queen has been a part of our collective culture. The writer of this show, Ben Elton, knows a thing or two about pop culture, about making fun of it, and about becoming part of it. You might not be familiar with his name but you probably know his work on comedic classic TV series like “Blackadder” or “The Young Ones”. His joyful, playful, biting, and absurd sense of humour comes through in this show in a way that is delightful and eye-rolling at the same time.
Welcome to the “iPlanet” (Earth has been rebranded), where nobody communicates in real life, individuality is strongly discouraged, and live music is banned. On this planet we have the dreamer dude Galileo Figaro, played by Caleb Jago-Ward who looks remarkably like a young Bon Jovi. Then we have badass babe Scaramouche (and if you think that is a odd name or that you shouldn’t call her “babe”, well so does she) played by the fantastically talented Jane Leonard. What develops from here is a story of love story, of teenage rebellion, and of why it is important that music keeps being created for love not money. But where in another telling of this story Scaramouche could have been relegated to sitting on the sidelines cheering on the musical hero Galileo, that simply isn’t the case here. She’s tough, she fights for what she wants, she runs towards the danger, and she doesn’t take any condescending talk from anyone. Meanwhile Galileo spouts out musical lyrics that just appear in his head, with no idea what they mean, but excellent comedic timing (“Scaramouche will you do the fandango?” does not go down well with her).
For regular attendees to the theatre, used to seeing the orchestra or band tucked away under the stage, it might be quite the surprise to see them on a platform precariously high above the stage, as much a part of the show for the eyes as they are for the ears. Multiple electric guitars replace the usual violins or oboes. So that what you end up with is an awesome lineup of musicians playing great songs in a very rock n’ roll way. Add to that the supporting ensemble singing and dancing to fill the stage with their energy and enthusiasm, not an easy feat in some of the skin tight costumes, and you have something that could easily be described as “a kind of magic”.
While the baddies are definitely bad they still are relatable. Who doesn’t want to be special? Killer Queen (played to nasty perfection by Naomi Ferguson) just wants to be special by ensuring nobody else is. Her evil henchman Khashoggi (played by the excellent Jack Fraser), well he just wants to avoid having his brain fried by his boss. The usual office politics. And what about the goodies? Well they hang out in the run down beat up Hard Rock Cafe. They are a punk dressing group of bohemians including VHS wielding Buddy (as in Holly played by Aaron Boyce), outrageous Oz (as in Osbourne played by Catherine Hay) and her lover boy risk-taker Brit (as in Spears played by Tom Hart). So what do the Bohemians want? They want music, they don’t know what it is or what it sounds like or even how to play a VHS tape, but they know deep down in their souls it’s what they need. And in the end everyone needs that, we need music to keep us human, to make us think, cry, be angry, and to unwind. We Will Rock You is a promise kept of all that and more. Buy tickets, see the show, remember why you love music and life.
As a reviewer I often get asked by friends or colleagues, “Was it really that good?” or, even better, “Is it worth me buying a ticket?”. My pre-emptive strike on this one is a resounding, “oh, yes!”. If you’ve seen the show already, you know what’s coming; if you haven’t, I suggest you book your tickets now because by the time word gets out, they’ll be in hot demand.
This is a first-class production brimming with hi-octane exuberance from start to finish, super-strong leads, an energetic young ensemble cast and a cracking band. Add to that the visual spectacle of a huge video screen and the show reaches a whole new stratospheric level. The show is wall-to-wall great music from one of the greatest rock bands ever, threaded together with the pithy, observational wit of Ben Elton as he takes a poke at the absurdities of modern life.
OK, so it is all assembled around a daft, rather irrelevant plot, but I doubt if anyone cares beyond the obvious downside that when you have a Killer Queen as good as Naomi Ferguson, you don’t get much of her in the second half.
For a first night it was immaculate, especially given the technology involved, so if there were any glitches, they were of the sort that only the tech crew would notice. Lighting and sound were faultless.
As the hits just kept coming, so did the laughs and I couldn’t believe that the time went by so quickly. Caleb Jago-Ward and Jane Leonard were excellent as Galileo and Scaramouche respectively, both fabulous singers singing what sounded like their ideal roles, belting out the big numbers but also pulling on the heartstrings with a touching Who Wants To Live Forever. Jago-Ward and Leonard both relished being front-and centre, making for a highly entertaining pairing.
Similarly, Bohemian couple Catherine Hay (Oz) and Tom Hart (Brit) injected pace, humour and gutsy vocals. Oz’s big moment came in No-One But You and the pair really rocked the house with I Want It All. Aaron Boyce was a suitably Ringo-esque Buddy, his moment in the sun being a well-taken These Are The Days Of Our Lives, while Jack Fraser made the part of archetypal Bond villain Khashoggi his own, as well as Seven Seas of Rhye.
As I’ve alluded to earlier on, one of the highlights of the show was Naomi Ferguson, commanding the stage in all her scenes, singing absolutely superbly throughout and making for a truly fearsome Killer Queen. Covering a wide vocal range across her songs, she powered through the big numbers – an outstanding vocal performance but also a gripping stage presence.
The show runs until April 13 – the opening night audience was on its feet at the end and having an absolute ball so here’s hoping for full houses for the rest of the season. As the title of the show suggests they will, indeed, rock you.
Reviewed by Kate Divett, Backstage Christchurch.
Friday 29 March
It is a deeply reflective time to be living in Christchurch currently, as we try to make sense of the events of Friday 15th March. We are a city in mourning and in shock. In the fortnight that has followed, we have gathered together in many ways – to grieve those who have been lost, to support those who remain, and in vigils for the peace and way of life we hold so dearly. Gatherings have been important.
Showbiz Christchurch thought deeply about whether or not to gather for the opening of their season of We Will Rock You. Their unanimous decision that “the show must go on” was the right one. I have personally found solace in the words of Leonard Bernstein this week: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before” and I held these words in my mind as I entered the theatre doors on Friday night.
So this is what the cast and crew of We Will Rock You have done: an exceptional, high energy, full noise and lights opening night, and an act of defiance against those who would want our lives interrupted. Bravo and thank you to all involved.
With the theatrical music of Queen woven together by the comedic writing of Ben Elton, it’s a winning combination. The story is set 300 years in the future, and the internet has destroyed any sense of community or individualism. Humans conform to mainstream, commercial ideals that are enforced, Big Brother-style, by Globalsoft Corporation. A small group of rebel Bohemians, however, are living counter to this tyranny, believing in a prophecy that a dreamer will come to help them find the last remaining musical instrument that has been hidden on the iPlanet. And there’s obviously a love story in there for good measure, which is brilliant.
Okay, the story might be a little bonkers, but we’re really here for the music – and we are not let down. At all. If the title of the show “We Will Rock You” was a promise, then Showbiz have definitely kept it. From the opening strains of ‘Innuendo’, we’re reminded that Queen’s music is intricate, lyrical, and incredibly well-known – especially in the recent success of 2018’s biographical film about Freddie Mercury, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The band set the tone for an epic night of rock immediately, and bravo in particular to Michael Ferrar and Heather Webb for their work on guitars. Brian May’s solos and breaks are some of the more recognisable in music history!
The night belonged to the two lead roles though. Caleb Jago-Ward (Galileo) is phenomenal – it’s actually difficult to adequately express how extraordinary his voice is.
It is a treat to see him throw himself into what must be a very fun role to perform and apply his vocal talent to. Every song was a winner. Jane Leonard (Scaramouche) is equally brilliant and a fabulous casting opposite Jago-Ward, bringing sass, feisty attitude and some great comic timing. I particularly enjoyed ‘Somebody To Love’, but the duet moments for these two singers – particularly in ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ were magical.
Naomi Ferguson (Killer Queen) and Jack Fraser (Khashoggi) had reliably good performances as the evil counterparts to Galileo and Scaramouche. Ferguson, in particular, had a big role with a big personality to play – and a wig to match – and the vocal range required of her songs would be a challenge for most singers. We have Freddie Mercury to thank for that! Her costumes were wonderfully outrageous, and this is a good opportunity to congratulate Diane Brodie QSM (Costume) and Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan (Hair and Makeup) and their teams for their incredible work once again.
Aaron Boyce (Buddy), Catherine Hay (Oz), and Tom Hart (Brit) played excellent parts and contributed even more mouth-dropping vocal performances. I particularly noted that Hart’s voice at times sounded incredibly similar to Mercury’s, particularly in ‘I Want It All’. Hay and Hart have some very funny on-stage chemistry and brought wonderful comedic moments. Boyce plays a fabulous futuristic hipster, a great leader of the Bohemian group.
The cohesion of direction, musical, production and technical elements of this production is evident for all to see.
The Showbiz Christchurch team should be incredibly satisfied that they are doing their bit to serve the Christchurch community with high-quality moments of escape into the Arts when we need it most. The themes of the show – standing up for what you believe in, acceptance of difference, friendship, and the power of music to unify people – hold an added poignancy that could not have been predicted. The response from the audience on opening night – whooping, hollering, and generous applause throughout, followed by a joy-filled sing-a-long and an emphatic standing ovation – were all confirmation that this is a show that will add to our collective wellbeing. Audiences should secure their tickets before the season sells out and get ready to rock (yeah!).
The Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co Season of We Will Rock You is on from 29 March – 13 April at Isaac Theatre Royal.