In this age of frequent revivals, the term “juke box musical” has become too familiar.
It describes an “original” show whose “score” is cobbled together with existing songs and a “plot” that serves only to provide them with a flimsy framework.
That said, these musicals have large followings among those who find them a melodic passport to their younger days.
Among the most specific of these is “We Will Rock You,” a kind of “1984” meets “Heartbreak Hotel.” With music and lyrics by Queen and a story and script by Ben Elton, it opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI.
I say “specific” because, unlike “Motown “ or “Rock of Ages” which feature music by diverse composers, the music here is attributed solely to the 1970- 80s rock band — and the plot to a variety of sci-fi and fantasy films.
If none of these genres strikes your fancy, the way to enjoy “We Will Rock You”(and take it from a limited-Queen fan, you CAN enjoy it) is just to sit back and let the music (what else?) rock you!
The enthusiastic Barn company obviously enjoys its assignment, with primary kudos going to the most wildly wacky characters — Brit (Chase Gray) and Oz (Dani Apple), the two chief Bohemians (underground rockers waiting for the Dreamer), and the Killer Queen (Penelope Alex), ruler of iPlanet and its controlling Globalsoft Corp., and her chief henchman Khashoggi (Eric Parker).
Conformity is the law of the day with musical instruments forbidden and rock music, unknown.
Two rebellious teens— Galileo (Quinn Moran) and Scaramouche (Samantha Rickarad) — break out of the robotic Gaga Kids pack. They eventually join with the Bohemians and their chief, Buddy (a very solid Hans Friedrichs), who guards the relic Vie-day-O (aka Video) which he believes holds the key to returning rock.
All Bohemians take their names from those on the tattered posters in their hideout, the Hard Rock Café. Brit is short for Britany Spears, Oz for Ozzie Osborne and on and on and on….
Once the Bohemians shake their brain freeze and find their way to “the place of the living rock,” guitar riffs win the day, Khashoggi sinks into the wherever, dark glasses glowing green, the Queen is vanquished and rock rules!
Along the way, thanks to solid vocals and instrumentals, even those not familiar with lesser-known Queen works will enjoy the kitschy goings-on.
Easily recognizable are “Killer Queen,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (I was surprised by that one, too), “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lest we forget — one major hit that was not in the “score” gets an all-inclusive production after the curtain call: What else? “ Bohemian Rhapsody!”
The stage set is minimal, a couple of platforms, lighting towers, a giant projection screen and proscenium ladders; costuming (for Bohemians) is raggy and (for Gaga Kids), uniform (literally). The most stand-out ensemble is the one worn off and on by the Killer Queen, turned on or off!
Directed by Brendan Ragotzy, with musical direction by Matt Shabala, the 2 ½ hour tribute to Queen can be enjoyed by anyone, even with no teen-age connection whatsoever to the British group.
Interesting to know that, although the show played for 10 years in its initial theater in London and has toured the world several times, it never made it to Broadway.
So in case it never does, this is your chance to go back (or ahead) to revisit the fantasy world of Queen!
It will rock you!
“WE WILL ROCK YOU” plays through July 23 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.