A jukebox musical of Queen hits with a libretto written by comedian Ben Elton. Since it opened at the Dominion theatre in London in 2002 it has played to over 600,000 people there alone, and over fifteen million worldwide. By any measure it is a popular success.
I took my seat as an admirer of Queen’s music, rather than a fan, the same being true of Ben Elton. As the show unfolded the reasons for its success were immediately apparent. The stage set, on two tiers, is imposing, the music is played by a live band and a cast of over 20 sing and dance with an unified, vibrant joy.
Visually the show is stunning courtesy of costumes by Kentaur. It borrows heavily from the look of the cast of the film, “Mad Max- beyond Thunderdome,” so much so that you half expect Tina Turner to pop out at any moment. The live band plays from the upper tier, sometimes behind screens, sometimes exposed for dramatic effect. They are excellent with bassist Neil Murray amongst their number, who is a stalwart of bands of Rocks’ illuminati.
The songs are not straight facsimiles of the original recordings, instead they are subtly adapted for their new dramatic context, and the various lead voices. Queen’s Brian May ensures that the original spirit is not lost, and doyenne of the West End Musical, and Royal Academy of Music associate, Stuart Morley ensures the songs work on stage. Morley deserves huge credit and appreciation for these arrangements which frequently bring some songs of which I am not particularly fond to life.
Inevitably, Queen’s voluminous back catalogue results in a few personal favourites being omitted, I would have liked to have heard “Now I’m Here” , but that is more than compensated for by the inspired reimagining and reworking of so many songs as unlikely duets and choral pieces. It is the female lead vocals which steal the show, Jenny O’Leary as the Killer Queen and Elena Skye as Scary bush (sic). Black Afro American DMJ is terrific as Brit, demonstrating both the personal versatility of his own vocal range and the versatility of the songs he sings to be reinterpreted.
Choreographer Jacob Fearey, who also acts as swing, eschews classic musical dance shapes and forms in favour of bespoke ensemble gatherings , the gender ambiguous dancers are a brilliant invention, it doesn’t matter if they are a boy or a girl, they look great.
Vocally, the slower numbers work best, mainly because the lead vocalists are so strong, “Who wants to live Forever?” and “These are the days of our Lives” are the pick of the bunch. The only relative dud was “Seven Seas of Rye” a great song hamstrung by poor stage direction.
As for the plot. Was there a plot? Elton’s script, a succession of stitched together one- liners is preposterous, and contrived, but is occasionally quite funny, not least when the male and female leads reflect on the need for “protection” before going to bed. But it works as it holds together a two hour show, even if the clunky eco aware and corporate phobic messages grate. However there is simple amusement to be had by identifying the numerous song lyric quotes which pepper the dialogue, which is handy, as there is very little real dialogue at all.
This is certainly amongst the very best of the jukebox musicals, essential for all Queen fans, and music fans, alike. A musical and visual spectacular, an evening of hugely entertaining musical theatre, playing at Wolverhampton until 28th May, then continuing on nationwide tour.