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.
It’s been 27 years since legendary Queen front-man Freddie Mercury passed away from an AIDS related illness yet his music remains as popular as ever.
Anyone who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s will remember Mercury for his flamboyance and enormous popularity, and thanks to the recent success of the multi award winning biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, new generations of music lovers are discovering the powerful and uplifting songs of Queen.
Even though it’s been over two decades since the original band members wrote and performed together, Queen remains as popular as ever due to their “dramatic, anthemic and inspiring songs which never get old no matter how many times you’ve heard them”, wrote entertainment reporter Emily Brow.
Writing on the news website Unilad she quotes NZ music professor and Queen fan Nick Braae: “Queen frequently sing about themes that have a universal quality; searching for love, family and relationship challenges, growing up, understanding one’s identity – none of which are confined to a particular historical time.”
Unsurpassed for their unique lyrics, dramatic and innovative style, it’s no surprise that the music of Queen underpins a unique musical theatre show which makes its NZ theatre company premiere in Christchurch on 29 March 2019.
Written by comedy genius Ben Elton (Blackadder, The Young Ones) and Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, We Will Rock You (WWRY) features 24 of Queen’s biggest hits re-imagined and woven into the story of a dystopian world where individuality is extinct and live music is banned. Born into this world are Galileo and Scaramouche, two outcasts who band together with a rebel gang of Bohemians to rediscover rock music and bring down the all-powerful GlobalSoft company and its tyrannical boss, The Killer Queen.
The story may sound as far-fetched as most of Queen’s lyrics but the musical’s worldwide popularity is undeniable. Since its West End debut in 2002, it has toured internationally amassing audience numbers of over 16 million.
The set, props and costumes for this Showbiz Christchurch production have come from Queen Theatrical and feature over 150 costume pieces designed by BAFTA and Olivier award-winning costume designer Tim Goodchild. Taking influence from Adam Ant, Kiss, Boy George, Madonna, the Bay City Rollers and other ‘80s musical icons, Goodchild has created a wardrobe of eclectic designs that are evocative of a Vivienne Westwood couture collection.
The set, built in the UK by leading designers Stufish Entertainment, will be brought to life on the Isaac Theatre Royal stage by director Stephen Robertson, lighting designer Grant Robertson (The Light Site), AV designer Dave Spark (Pixel Productions), sound designer Glen Ruske (BounceNZ), and David Bosworth (4th Wall Theatre Services).
Caleb Jago-Ward has returned home to take on the lead role of Galileo after his show-stealing performance in The Court Theatre’s recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Caleb sprang to attention on the The Voice Australia as a member of Team Delta. It was his performance of the Queen song ‘Somebody to Love’ that got all the judges on their feet and dancing during a blind audition.
Caleb will be joined on stage by Jane Leonard (Scaramouche), Naomi Ferguson (Killer Queen), Jack Fraser (Khashoggi), Aaron Boyce (Buddy), Catherine Hay (Oz), Tom Hart (Brit), an eight member rock band led by musical director Richard Marrett, and an ensemble of 26 singers and dancers, supported by six backing vocalists. Behind-the-scenes are hundreds of volunteers and theatre professionals who provide the crew, technical, costume, front of house, and management expertise needed to bring a show of this size to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage. “It’s our way to share our love of Queen,” says Showbiz president Markham Lee.
For the last two years Showbiz have partnered with Christchurch Pride to support each other’s events and shows. “This year – with We Will Rock You – it is appropriate that we have widened that partnership to include the New Zealand Aids Foundation,” says Showbiz marketing manager Wendy Riley.
Showbiz will be supporting the ‘Choice’ campaign to end HIV by donating to NZAF all profits from a WWRY ticketed backstage tour, collecting donations at performances, and making a donation on behalf of the WWRY company at the end of the season.
“Freddie Mercury was such an icon and an important part of starting conversations around HIV with the wider public,” says Jason Myers, CEO of the New Zealand Aids Foundation. “We’re very glad to have the support of Showbiz in raising awareness of, and funds toward, our goal of no new HIV transmissions in Aotearoa by 2025.”