You see them cavorting in their ridiculous costumes, making references upon corny reference to snippets of songs from the long distant and recent past (read: the ‘80s even though our tale is set hundreds of years in the future). You watch a male character named - and dressed to suggest- Britney Spears (that’s “Brit” to you) and a female character names Ozzie Ozbourn (whose upper half somehow avoids a wardrobe malfunction) blasting through “I Want it All.” You raise a eyebrow at the futuristic look – achieved largely through video projections - and cringe over playwright Ben Elton’s dialog and the ham fisted way he seguays into the next entry in the Queen catalog.
You take all this in and you think - assuming after 2.5 hours of eardrum assaulting, sternum rattling noise you are still capable of rational thought – one thing and one thing only.
Mr. Robert De Niro…are you talking to ME?! Cause if you’re talking to me, then what in the name of bohemian rhapsody are you trying to say?
There are numerous people who could hang their head in shame over the pandering, amped up tribute band laziness of “We Will Rock You.” Writer-director Elton for a start; Queen founding band members Roger Taylor and Brian May, on it goes. The most surprising name on the offener’s list is De Niro whose Tribeca Theatrical Productions (run by the actor and Jane Rosenthal) produced “We Will Rock You”as well as 25 films (thanks for that, at least) and – for the stage - nothing more.
Come to think of it, once you’ve birthed “We Will Rock You,” there’s really no reason to do anything else for the stage. Your work is finished. And who can argue? This rock musical soundtracked with the songs of Queen has been throbbing away in Las Vegas, on the West End of London and on tour for well over a decade to very appreciative and deep pocketed audiences. So break out those liquid lighters (generously provided) and get those feet a-stomping. Boom boom, CLAP! boom boom CLAP!
In its touring version at the Ahmanson Theatre, and directed by Elton, “Rock You” is little more than an excuse for its young, pretty and decently voiced company to sport the aforementioned whacked out costumes (designed to the nth degree of kitsch by Tim Goodchild) utter the lamest of dialog, stumble through an even lamer plot, and sing Queen songs with which their audience will either be entirely familiar or – if they are not the targeted age demographic in either direction– seriously confused. Be aware: Nate Patten is leading a full throttle rock ensemble, not a musical theater orchestra. So if you look around during a fever pitch number, you’re going to witness a smattering of audience members with fingers in ears amongst those who are rocking out.
The tale is a quest by a young rebel who calls himself Galileo Figaro (played by Brian Justin Crum) to figure out why song snippets pop into his head and what kind of rebellion he is supposed to lead. His sidekick and ultimately “somebody to love” is an equally anti-establishment chick (Galileo’s term and a point of contention) who he names Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). The oppressive Ga-Ga society is legislated by Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith) and overlord Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold whose hair should be the blueprint for a killer skateboard ramp). The aforementioned Oz (Erica Peck) and Brit (Jared Zirilli) are part of a group of underground rebel Bohemians who, like Galileo and Scaramouche, want to break free. The Bohemians do not get a rhapsody.
Neither, alas, do we. Crum and Lewis are both vocally skilled at this kind of performance and the heavy amplification and Patten’s band fill in any gaps. The lengthy, pre-clinch bickering between our two lovers is wearing, particularly from Lewis who leans heavily on sour. Elton laces in a streak of tongue-in-cheek humor which Ryan Knowles, in the role of hippy Bohemian Buddy, grabs and holds onto for dear life. His very use of the word “rock!” is worth a laugh or seven.
“We Will Rock You” had a role in ushering in the success of the jukebox musical. Its tunes may be far better than those of, say, its sunnier, fluffier cousin “Mamma Mia” although the latter show makes for a far more joyous sit. If you want to play Queen, why not just play Queen. Does anybody we really need this overinflated fan-dan-go?
"We Will Rock You" plays 8 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun; through Aug. 24 at 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. $25-$120. (213) 972-4400, www.centertheatregroup.org.