They have rocked Manila and now they’re on the Cape Town leg of their South African tour and Queen and Ben Elton’s multi-award-winning rock musical WE WILL ROCK YOU – featuring a stellar South African cast, crew and band – does not disappoint at the Artscape Theatre.
WE WILL ROCK YOU, now this is what I call a large scale rock musical with a (heart)beat. Queen concert meets theatricality, it feeds the soul of any Freddy Mercury fan (those already worshipping at the shrine, and those yet to discover his eternal magic).
This production doesn’t ease you into anything, it opens with high energy fan favourite numbers and it keeps up with that promised pace. Everyone in the cast gives it their all; no one is phoning it in. They clearly love what they do and that translates to the audience’s experience of their performance: You don’t see the effort they put in but rather the impact the music has on them too, as they up their performance level to a Queen required standard
The storyline merges current day technology fears with the everlasting hope and power of music (strongly relying on lyrics from pop and rock songs to move the narrative forward):
There is a Killer Queen (born from the world of gaming) who wants to oppress any form of original music. She does so through the corporate engine that is Global Soft, where everyone works (or rather drones) through their life in pop culture sameness. But two of the pack refuse to give up their individual nature and believe there is something more to life than just clocking in and out of the daily slog: Enter Galileo and Scaramouche whom the fates (or the four floating faces) lead to the Bohemian rebels who still believe in the elusive ‘vibe’ (which they hope will be rediscovered by the Dreamer) … and so a quest is born in a dystopian future!
The musical’s storyline is perhaps not one with great depth, and doesn’t give us anything new as far as commenting on the impact of cyber technology on individualism and the threat faced by artistic expression in a social media dominated world (especially as we enter the AI era), but it leans into all the right aspects and creates a world where everyone can find a relatable angle.
Outliers become rebel-heroes and that’s all the hook you need. Add to that the (perhaps too quickly blossoming) love story of two misfits on a quest to save the world with a reawakening of the oppressed and sacred rock ‘n’ roll, and you have a great canvas to unashamedly indulge in your every Queen discography delight.
WE WILL ROCK YOU isn’t a celebration of Freddy Mercury or even the band per se —there’s no life story unpacking here— but rather an exploration of what their music and the contribution of so many other rock trendsetters meant, and still means, to self-expression through music. Queen’s songs were classified as rock hits, but they played within that genre without losing their unique sound, doing rock their way, and WE WILL ROCK YOU celebrates that essence.
The fight for freedom of speech (or in this case rock) is a story that deserves to be told over and over again in all its facets and formats. WE WILL ROCK YOU plays into that with its fair share of comical and cartoonish aspects to invite joy in the performance while avoiding becoming soppy or preachy. It does what any good rock n roll song should: it packs an entertaining punch and then lingers as the inspiration of the beat naturally takes up residence in your soul
Aesthetically the world resides somewhere between Tron and Mad Max, and it works. The lighting and costume design play perfectly into this cleverly designed, multimedia set design with its gaming-like moving background, bright lights and touches of desolation.
Everyone in this production is unquestionably talented, professional and perfectly cast, with clear direction from Nick Winston. The vocals are as big as the musical numbers and never feel strained. Here Nicolette Fernandes (Scaramouche), Stuart Brown (Galileo) and Danelle Cronje (Oz) are true stand-outs. Cronje also has great onstage chemistry with her Dreamer-obsessed Bohemian boyfriend, Brit, as played by Richard Gau. Tiaan Rautenbach as Buddy (the not-so-savant Bohemian who tries to figure out when the music died) has fantastic comedic timing and brings the laughs with his roadie-meets-groupie humour. Londiwe Dlhomo as the Killer Queen, makes the role her own with the off-beat, slightly demented, evil character she has conjured up for this role.
The choreography does not overpower or overtake the narrative or the music, but rather merges with it seamlessly to present a production with a singular purpose of taking the story forward.
I very rarely give a production a standing ovation, but this show had me on my feet. It is innovative in its reimagined form, superb in its execution, has more heart than one would expect, and I would go back to see it again and again in a heartbeat. WE WILL ROCK YOU invites you to go in search of ‘the vibe’, and I definitely left the theatre having found it, feet tapping and all.
You have until 4 June 2023 to go experience WE WILL ROCK YOU at the Artscape Theatre. It features 24 of Queen’s greatest hits including It’s a Kind of Magic, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Fat Bottomed Girls, Another One Bites the Dust, We Will Rock You, We are the Champions and mega-hit Bohemian Rhapsody, so you better come ready to rock! Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster.