We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You
By Queen and Ben Elton. Matt Byrne Media by arrangement with David Spicer Productions. Arts Theatre, Adelaide. 5-14 July, 2018. Shedley Theatre, Elizabeth. 19-28 July, 2018.

Freddie Mercury – born Farrokh Bulsara – was an inimitable front-man, and the group of musicians he led has never been the same since his life was lost to AIDS. Neither, for that matter, has the world of rock-and-roll – or musical theatre, now that We Will Rock You is firmly entrenched as a worldwide audience-favourite.

This is a rather strange show; full-to-overflowing with rock songs that number among the greatest of the past fifty years, performed here with energy and high spirits by a talented collection of Adelaide actors and musicians, yet held back by a script that is decidedly disappointing, especially coming from the mind of Ben Elton.

Fortunately, Matt Byrne has made a generally good go of a stage musical (in its South Australian premiere) that is blessed with undeniably glorious music, meaning that those who love Queen – this reviewer included – can still have a fine time at We Will Rock You.

Iman Saleh plays the central protagonist with a capable mixture of confidence and charisma; while the demanding nature of Queen’s more-ambitious music occasionally places strain on Saleh’s vocal capacities, he’s still a strong and sympathetic centre to this production. Danielle Greaves, besides boasting an impressively polished voice, brings a consistently sceptical attitude to her co-leading character, which works well for a while but threatens to become a mite monotonous over the long haul (and make no mistake, this is a long show: including interval, just shy of three hours).

April Stuart and James McCluskey-Garcia provide the villainous element to these proceedings, but they ensure that the tone is kept light-hearted and far from serious; what might ordinarily be played as a dramatic set-piece (the bad guys dispensing a dose of electrocution from descending plastic helmets) feels here like a particularly wacky meeting of The Muppet Movie and The Rocky Horror Show.

Director/designer/producer/supporting-player Byrne has made sure to give his show a good pace, never falling too slack but neither too hectic; if only the high proportion of second-rate material in Elton’s writing could have been given the chop, this reviewer might have found We Will Rock You thoroughly satisfying, rather than uneven-with-highlights.

As it stands, those highlights - which include not just the marvellous music but the thoroughly engaging double-act of Anthony Butler and Kathryn Driver, providing electric levels of comedy while decked out in the terrific costume design of Sue Winston - mean that you should find it ultimately impossible to suppress a smile on your face by show’s end. The brilliance of Queen can chalk up a hard-won triumph over the silly and needless futuristic story surrounding the still-superb songs.

Anthony Vawser

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