Centuries from now, “on an iPlanet once called Earth,” life is lived entirely online. Globalsoft controls the Internet, playing the music of Gaga everywhere. (Not Lady Gaga, just perky prattle known as “Gaga.”)
And as credits at the top of “We Will Rock You” tell us, the story of this boisterous musical recalls that glorious time in history when, “for one brief shining moment, there was Mozart!”
No, sorry: “There was rock!” The inspiration of future creativity and independence will be the music of Queen. We will stomp to the title song, boogie to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and sway arms back and forth in the air to “We Are the Champions.” (Conformity is desirable, when it’s rock ‘n’ roll conformity.)
If this future sounds like nirvana – and you appreciate INCREDIBLY LOUD MUSICALS THAT NEVER LET UP – get to Belk Theater this week to enjoy the national tour.
The leads belt with the best. The eight-piece band sounds like Queen when desired and simply a fine back-up unit at other times. The chorus gamely handles the puerile choreography.
Don’t expect emotional involvement with the piece, plotting above the level of any Cartoon Network episode or characters developed beyond stereotypes. Do expect to smile at the songs and corny jokes by librettist Ben Elton, and you can have a good time.
Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), who dreams in rock lyrics and images he doesn’t understand, leads The Bohemians, who cluster in an abandoned Hard Rock Cafe. He and smart, fiery Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) set out to find a buried guitar that will revive rock and free right-thinking people from online entrapment. (Yes, Elton was inspired by “The Matrix.” But is he being satiric in saying these Bohemians have forgotten Elvis Presley and The Beatles yet remember Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus?)
The heroes are abetted by Brit and Oz (Jared Zarilli and Erica Peck), a John and Joan the Baptist paving the way for this savior, and opposed by the tyrannical Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her henchman, Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith).
Sometimes songs further the story; sometimes they stop it to stand alone; sometimes they fill space uselessly. (There’s no reason for the Queen to sing “Fat Bottomed Girls” to lesbian attendants in bustiers.)
With one exception, a wistful “These are the Days of Our Lives” by a guy (Ryan Knowles) called Buddy Holly and the Crickets – you read that right – songs that were quiet, melancholic or wistful in Freddie Mercury’s original renderings turn into power ballads for this show. Even “Under Pressure” starts softly but joins the deafening decibel derby by the end.
The sound system worked beautifully where I sat; I learned a few lyrics for the first time, despite long association with the songs.
And every member of the cast can rock; Crum’s soaring tenor and Lewis’ huge, emotive soprano lead the way magnificently. But listening to virtually every number done this way is like eating a salad made entirely of jalapeño peppers and one scrawny carrot.