For a musical that was scorched by the critics, We Will Rock You has proved remarkable resilient.
An audience of 15 million across 17 countries, a 12-year run in the West End which comprised some 4600 performances, and now a 2019 re-imagining to kick-start the Queen juggernaut once more.
I last saw it when it was the big Christmas show at the Playhouse six or seven years ago, with Darren Day channelling his inner Ray Winstone as he turned the baddie into some bizarre east end gangster, while Curly Watts from Coronation Street jumped around as one of the Bohemians.
The audience loved it. As a lifelong Queen fan, I quietly nursed a headache.
To be fair, I have also harboured a dislike of Ben Elton, based largely on the fact he once referenced Bohemian Rhapsody as ‘Bo Rhap.’ Bismillah! Gonnae no!
This 2019 re-boot has jettisoned the stars from the telly, and stuck with a cast rooted in musical theatre.
And it was all the better for it.
It felt sharper and slicker, it was funny, the cast were engaging, and the digital set – giant screens packed with landscapes inspired by Star Wars, Mad Max and possibly what Mark Zuckenberg’s corporate HQ looks like – gave it a futuristic feel to try to make sense of the storyline.
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Ah yes, the plot. Such as it is ... the kids are banned from playing instruments, and all music is produced by a corporate giant churning out manufactured boy and girl bands.
A band of desperadoes, the Bohemians, cling to the dream of a guitar solo, and find their salvation in Gallileo Figaro – or Gaz to his mates – who, along with Scaramouche (Elton really didn’t spend too much time adding any depth to his characters), has to defeat the mighty empire and, like King Arthur, prise the mighty six-string axe from ye ancient stone and set the people free to headbang until it hurts.
Wrap that around 25 Queen songs and you have a rock musical that defies critical bashing, and does exactly what it sets out to do – entertain.
And, thunderbolt and lightning, this 2019 re-boot IS great fun.
Ian Mcintosh and Elena Skye were excellent in the lead roles – Skye’s rendition of Somebody to Love was utterly superb – and they got plenty of laughs out of the updated script filled with knowing references to bands, songs and rock legend, while Michael McKell just about owns the second half with his fab stoner rocker act as Buddy, one part Neil from the Young Ones, one part a befuddled Keef Richards from The Stones.
Jenny O’Leary made an excellent Killer Queen, and Adam Strong dialled down the Darren Day panto approach to make for a much more entertaining Kashoggi... and boy could they both sing!
And as the show’s core strength remains its music, it was good to see the songs were, by and large, left untouched. Perhaps only Crazy Little Thing Called Love didn’t land with the oomph expected given it was always a Queen crowd pleaser – on the plus side, it was cool to hear Seven Seas Of Rhye done so well.
It’s often said the show appeals only to Queen fans. I reckon it’s much wider than that.
The hits extend far beyond the die-hards, and with the recent Freddie Mercury biopic hitting box office gold, this revival is well-timed to tap into that new wave of interest.
It’s got what every musical craves – longevity and an audience.
It’s also got the essential feel-good factor that over-rides every shortcoming in Ben Elton’s blueprint, it cracks along at pace, and has folk up out of their seats singing by the time it launches into We Are The Champions and “Bo Rhap.”
We Will Rock You: The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, until October 12.