(Disclaimer – I was provided complimentary tickets to We Will Rock You by Des Moines Performing Arts)
Among the travesties in musical history, one of the greatest is that Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury died way too young. I was just 13 when Mercury died of complications associated with AIDS in 1991. Even then, I knew the music world had been robbed of an extraordinary talent.
It wouldn’t be until 2002 that the music of Queen was brought to the stage. We Will Rock You first opened in London and has been performed all over the world. Interestingly enough, it has not appeared on Broadway in New York City. So in this case, you can say that Des Moines got a “Broadway show” before Broadway got it.
We Will Rock You tells the story of a world hundreds of years in the future that has been completely homogenized by a large corporation, Globalsoft. Earth, now known as the “iPlanet” is completely devoid of independent thought and more importantly, rock and roll. While the Killer Queen rules over Globalsoft, and presumably the world, a small band of outlaws known as the Bohemians are out to rediscover rock n’ roll.
Bohemians, eh? Wonder if they’ll sing “Bohemian Rhapsody!”
New to the Bohemians is a man by the name of Galileo. Galileo Figaro (seriously, that’s straight out of Bohemian Rhapsody!), played by Brian Justin Crum. He hears strange words and sees strange visions in his dreams that make no sense to him. What the audience knows is that he’s dreaming of some of the all-time great song lyrics. Galileo strives to find the source of these dreams. In doing so, he meets a kindred spirit in Scaramouche, played brilliantly by Ruby Lewis, but more on that in a minute.
Scaramouche (as in Scaramouche will you do the fandango… seriously, are they going to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody??”) is a rebel that never fit in with Globalsoft and the “Gaga Girls” way of life. She’s apprehensive about Galileo at first, but soon realizes that they have a similar mission in life; to not conform.
The couple meet up with the Bohemians and learn that Galileo may just be the chosen one, known as “The Dreamer,” that will bring rock and roll back to the world. In order to do this, they must find one of the last remaining musical instruments near “where the King is buried,” referencing Graceland. In the London production of the show, the ultimate goal was for the pair to eventually find Wembley Stadium, where Queen put on some of their most iconic performances.
One last clue to help Galileo and Scaramouche find the hidden axe is found on an ancient video tape (pronounced vi-DAY-oh TAH-pee by Ryan Knowles in the role of the hilarious Buddy). The tape is played and showcases the first bars of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (Seriously? Is that all we’re gonna get?) From there, the race is on to save rock and roll.
We Will Rock You showcases some of the great Queen classics like “Under Pressure,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.” The show obviously couldn’t omit “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” either. I just kept asking throughout the show, “Why aren’t they singing “Bohemian Rhapsody?””
The show progresses a bit slowly, especially in the first act as it works to build the story. I found the scenes with the villains of Globalsoft to move especially slowly, but in some cases the songs performed saved the scenes. The actors that make up the Bohemians were a lot of fun and have hilarious names that I won’t spoil here.
One actor that deserves a brighter spotlight is Scaramouche herself, Ruby Lewis. The beautiful Lewis exudes just the right amount of sassy in her performance. Then, she sings “Somebody to Love” and you absolutely fall in love with her. She has far and away the best voice in the entire production. She simply owns the role and with one song, owned the whole crowd. Lewis is a stage and TV veteran that deserves all of the accolades she receives on a nightly basis on Twitter. If there was a reason to see this show other than the iconic music, it would be for Lewis’ performance.
We Will Rock You does a great job at preserving the legacy of one of music’s great acts. It even does well to stay current with plenty of pop culture jokes intertwined. If you’ve loved Queen and their music, you’ll get exactly what you want.
Maybe even a song that you really want to hear.
We Will Rock You is at the Des Moines Civic Center through Sunday, June 15.