What a difference, er, 16 years makes… Despite the show spending over a decade at the Dominion Theatre, I never managed to make it to see We Will Rock You in the height of my original Queen obsession – it actually closed just four months before I moved to London. I did, however, buy the cast recording (because you have to know what these things are like, don’t you?). Back when the musical first opened I wasn’t into theatre at all, so (though I do remember smirking at the ridiculous premise of it) I probably wouldn’t have had any issue with it at all – as long as the songs were performed brilliantly I’d have been pretty happy. Fast forward to now, and my checklist has shifted quite markedly…
Many of you will remember my reaction to Bat Out of Hell last summer, and hopefully note my emphasis on the importance of storytelling. Given that this show was basically the precursor to BOOH in so many ways (cue Meat Loaf fans telling me that Jim Steinman technically got in there first…), I’d started to feel glad that I had missed out as I was quite happy not knowing what my reaction to WWRY would be – and then yet another piece of thunder stealing happened! First Kneehigh announce a new tour for Dead Dog in a Suitcase, and then a 2019/20 UK & Ireland tour of We Will Rock You is finally confirmed… While that doesn’t mean I’m forced to go, it would be rather rubbish of me to miss out again – and I really can’t help but be tempted by my curiosity!
It’s intriguing to note that the show wasn’t a critical success in any way, though that did nothing to impede the box office – whereas its cousin (BOOH) got stars in spite of critics noting its deficit in the book department, but hasn’t had the staying power. Maybe tastes have changed, maybe actual critiques aren’t called for anymore – or maybe there is a media conspiracy against Queen after all (don’t worry, I’m not a conspiracy theory nutjob – it’s just interesting!).
Back to the cast recording… We Will Rock You was written by Ben Elton and features a decent chunk of Queen’s back catalogue; the song list has varied during the show’s life, though the original cast recording has 23 different Queen songs (24 if you count the fast version of We Will Rock You). As you’d expect from the show of this nature, most of them are well known singles (sadly you’d probably not get a regular theatregoer nodding along to something like The March of the Black Queen or Tenement Funster, choons though they are) though the inclusion of an instrumental version of Ogre Battle – presumably for a fight scene – is a smart move. It’s nice to see that Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…) and Brighton Rock also got their instrumental moments at some point during the show’s development (but not in time to make the CD), though it seems a shame that the venom-coated lyrics of the former weren’t taken advantage of.
The show attracted a fantastic array of performers over the years, many of whom have gone on to be West End regulars – it was quite a revelation to me to browse the cast lists and recognise so many names! And as for the original cast… It’s a thrill to listen to the incredible talents of Sharon D. Clarke (Killer Queen), Tony Vincent (Galileo), Kerry Ellis (Meat) and many more; of course they do the songs justice, and having a fairly large ensemble fits perfectly with the nature of many Queen songs, as they were renowned for their vocal overdubs in the early days. Clarke’s rendition of Killer Queen is probably the highlight for me; her charismatic performance easily comes across, even through a set of speakers. Bohemian Rhapsody and Under Pressure are also masterfully done.
Whilst it may contain elements that make me cringe (naming quite so many characters after song lyrics is at the top of that list), the cast recording cannot be faulted: a terrific theatrical representation of part of the discography of the greatest band in history.
We Will Rock You was recorded live at the Dominion Theatre and released in 2002. You can buy the remastered edition online.