When the musical “We Will Rock You” opened in London in 2002, it didn’t exactly get the kind of reviews people dream of. The “Daily Mail” for one, opined, “Ben Elton [the show’s writer and director] should be shot for this risible story,” and it was a view shared by many.
Many critics, at least, which was hardly surprising. The show is a jukebox musical based on the songs of Queen, who also received their fair share of critical brickbats during their reign. And, like Queen, “We Will Rock You” proved to be critic-proof; not only did the London show run for over a decade (it just closed last May), there have been successful productions around the world.
Including the first US touring production, now playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre through July 13. And Queen fans and classic rock lovers should really enjoy this amped up production, which has been updated to incorporate more topical references (like facebook and twerking).
The story is set in a totalitarian future where individual creativity is outlawed. In this stifling environment, two outsiders, Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), who dream of creating their own songs to sing, manage to find each other, then discover a group of bohemian archivists holed up in the wreckage of a Hard Rock Café puzzling over rock artifacts like t-shirt and video tapes. They take up Galileo as their leader, and on to fighting the good fight — the people’s right to rock out with abandon.
Not the strongest storyline, admittedly. But the point is to showcase Queen’s songs, and “We Will Rock You” does that splendidly. From “You’re My Best Friend” to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” from “Under Pressure” to “Radio Ga Ga,” it’s a terrific showcase of Queen’s best-known work. The band’s music is also used in clever ways; a snippet of “Ogre Battle” is used during a fight sequence, and “Flash” is the backing music for a torture sequence.
The cast has a great time with the corny lines, and an even better time singing the songs. Lewis walks away with the singing honors, beginning with a star turn in “Somebody to Love” in Act I, and proves to be a feisty counterpart to Lewis, as the two meet, argue, and fall in love (though her outfit actually looks better in her pre-bohemian makeover). Jacqueline B. Arnold gets the fun songs, “Killer Queen,” though her “Fat Bottomed Girls” would’ve been more subversive if the gender pronouns hadn’t been changed. And Lewis gets to close out the show by taking the lead on the anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”
Or close out the main part of the show anyway. Spoiler tip: don’t leave during the cast curtain call, if you want to hear Queen’s best known song. It’s worth it.