Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with review tickets to We Will Rock You
When We Will Rock You The Musical opened in 2002, it was panned by the critics. The Guardian called the premise “as sixth form as it sounds”; The Mirror said “Ben Elton should be shot for this risible story” and the Telegraph labelled it as “guaranteed to bore you rigid”. Harsh words indeed.
Yet it’s clear the critics’ reactions didn’t reflect those of its audiences, with We Will Rock You rapidly becoming one of the biggest theatre shows in the world. Twenty years on, the jukebox musical featuring 24 of Queen’s biggest hits and a book by Ben Elton, has played to more than 16 million people in 19 countries and continually packs out theatres across the globe.
Such is the case here in Cardiff, where We Will Rock You has just opened its two-week sell-out stint as part of a 27-venue UK tour. Delayed for nearly two years due to the pandemic, the atmosphere in Wales Millennium Centre’s Donald Gordon Theatre at last night’s press performance was electric, even before the show had started.
I’ve seen We Will Rock You once before, at Wales Millennium Centre way back in 2011 when homegrown talents Noel Sullivan and Rhydian Roberts both starred, something I always thought a little ironic given the show laments the rise of manufactured pop and reality TV shows, although I remember them both being excellent performers.
A decade on, and I was intrigued to see how the production had developed and also to experience the musical with my 12 year old daughter for the first time, to see what the younger generation would make of this worldwide box office smash which laments the very digital age she is growing up in.
We Will Rock You is set on the futuristic iPlanet, where Globalsoft Corporation has ensured that individuality is banned. At the local school, the Ga Ga Kids must listen to computer-generated music, dress the same, even think the same. Musical instruments are banned and rock music was forgotten about hundreds of years ago.
That is until we meet Galileo, a self-confessed dreamer who hears (what we in the audience know to be) song lyrics in his head but which make no sense to him, and Scaramouche, a goth girl who refuses to conform to the pretty pastels, blonde bobs and cute handbags of the Ga Ga Girls.
Escaping the evil clutches of Killer Queen, head of Globalsoft, and her henchman Khashoggi, they come across a group of rogue bohemians who are hunting out evidence of ancient rock music and awaiting the prophecy of the chosen one who will find the shining star that will lead them to ‘the axe’ and the mysterious rock music.
It’s no mean feat taking on vocals made famous by the incomparable Freddie Mercury, but Ian McIntosh as Galileo is a very likeable lead who alongside Elena Skye as Scaramouche have plenty of stage presence and wonderfully strong vocals. Strong performances also come from David-Michael Johnson as Brit and Martina Ciabatti Mennell as Meat while Jennifer O’Leary is brilliantly feisty and mean as Killer Queen with real powerhouse vocals, in particular her consecutive act two numbers Fat Bottomed Girls, Don’t Stop Me Now and Another One Bites The Dust. She more than makes the songs her own.
Mention must also go to the live rock band, positioned on the top level of the stage, sometimes visible but often not, and who really drive the energy of this show and provide a stadium-worthy accompaniament that Queen would be proud of.
With Queen known for the ambitious lighting and staging in their live shows, it’s great to see the We Will Rock You creative team following suit here with effective visuals and light displays adding much to the production. The script has also been updated for the 20th anniversary, with plenty of contemporary references which the audience love.
The age guidance is 5+ with no entry to under 2s, so it’s a great show for all generations and there’s definitely plenty here that children will love. There are a few sexual references and innuendos but nothing too inappropriate for a family audience.
My daughter knows the music of Queen very well and she understood a lot of the other song lyrics and musical references (my husband and I have ensured all of our children have had a strong musical grounding!). It lead to some really interesting discussions on the way home about manufactured pop, music snobbery, and how social media is changing the industry and not necessarily always in a bad way.
We Will Rock You is a little cheesy at times, but if you can’t do that in a musical, when can you? It’s also great fun, uplifting, full of energy, and fully deserving of its standing ovation, where the audience are finally given the chance to join in and sing along to some of the most memorable songs ever written.
We Will Rock You is at Wales Millennium Centre until 16 April 2022. Ticket availability is limited but visit the website for more information and to book. www.wmc.org.uk