Review / Cast ‘rocks’ the audience out of the arena

theatre / “We Will Rock You”, PeeWee Productions, AIS Arena, until November 10. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL

ON the iPlanet ruled by the Killer Queen of GlobalSoft, a dreamer – Galileo, and his purple-haired partner Scaramouche (as he names her), there’s a search for “a rock that hangs in the air” and a mysterious “hammer”.

At the Hard Rock Café, aptly-named “Bohemians hang out”, they’re wistfully yearning for a time they never knew. The allure of the remnants strewn round beckons them to find “Rock and Roll”, only when pressed for any solid information, the enthusiastic yet clueless gang “Don’t know” any.

The PeeWee Productions telling of “We Will Rock You” makes no bones about the script, written by Ben Elton, existing purely as a coat-hanger to hang the songs of Queen on. It does, however, also serve to poke fun at the robotic, group-mentality world of automated music, iPhones, Facebook friends and the obsession with the internet. 

Perfectly cast as Killer Queen is Queenie van de Zandt, who, with her side-kick Khashoggi, performed by Max Gambale, enforce the laws of no instrument playing or making and no creation of live music. Ironically the music they do make on stage is brilliant. “A Kind of Magic”, with the ensemble backing, had perfect harmonies and hit all the right notes.

Unfortunately Galileo (Toby Francis) is consumed by dreams and words that he spurts out continually, almost as if speaking in tongues. Unbeknownst to him, they are lyrics from the Beatles to Britney and everyone in-between. This ancient insight makes him a target for GlobalSoft, so he teams up with Scaramouche, performed by Erin Clare, as well as Oz and Brit (Samantha Marceddo and Dave Smith, respectively) to restore music and work out what it all means. Many humorous exchanges take place through the one-liners, song snippets and the smart-mouthed, sarcastic Scaramouche. The banter between Galileo, Scaramouche and Buddy (David Cannell) is hilarious.

Clare and Francis delivered a stunning rendition of “Who Wants to Live Forever”. Clare’s performance was enthralling, her singing warm and confident, perfectly suited for the role. Only her lower register was lost on occasion when singing duets and competing with the volume of the band. There were a couple of late mic entries. Francis was at his best when singing still as at times he sounded breathless from running around and appeared to have an issue keeping his earpiece in. Cannell was delightful in his comedic performance with Smith and Marceddo giving good performances. Marceddo’s solo was a stand-out.

Andrea Clifford-Jones directed a meticulous musical performance from the band. It was easy to forget the music was live and not Queen recordings. The show began as an aural challenge, volume-wise, until acclimatised. Guitarists Jeandre Fourie and Stuart King got well-deserved cameos. They were brilliant, playing the riffs and timing with absolute accuracy. To really show up Galileo, it would have impressed to have Scaramouche actually play the guitar when they come across it, instead of miming it.

Anna Senior as costume designer clad the performers in slick ensemble numbers and well-fitted, revealing but appealing corsets and briefs and dramatic, dazzling sequins. The wigs and hairpieces created by Marie Donnell were dramatic and brilliant.

Nikole Neal choreographed for a confident and well-rehearsed ensemble, whose singing was also impressive. “Fat Bottomed Girls” felt laboured in the monotonous beat of the steps. The choreography slickly portrayed the regimented style of GlobalSoft, contrasting the freedom of jive number “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by the Bohemians.

The cast, set, designed by Chris Neal and lighting, succeed in filling the cavernous venue that is the AIS. The multi-dimensional, medical facility set was particularly effective and via the huge, moving LED screen, Queen does make an appearance.

The “hammer” is found – it turned out to be a Brian May-styled guitar and the mecca of Wembley Stadium is reached in a finale and audience-induced encore that venerates Freddie Mercury and could have ended on a poignant note of his lit statue, but continued on for another curtain call. The audience did not miss a beat in joining in “We Will Rock You”.

Director Kelda McManus and the producers have secured a killer cast, providing Queen fans, along with those less familiar with them, a wonderful night of music, laughs, entertainment and a visual spectacular. As the audience filed out and the fire alarm went off, one can only assume it was from the pyrotechnics used in the finale and that the AIS still stands to hold the remaining shows. Get along and you will leave feeling suitably rocked!

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