What We Will Rock You Lacks in Story it Makes Up for in Great Songs and Powerful Voices

The cast of the national tour of We Will Rock You
The cast of the national tour of We Will Rock You
Photo by Paul Kolnik

The set-up:

This isn't the first jukebox musical, nor will it be the last, when a concert is performed but a show breaks out. All Queen-heads will be in seventh heaven with this superbly sung, thrillingly played, and blindingly lighted arena show. Those who want such a thing as an old-fashioned musical are damn out of luck. When the most high-energy piece of the evening is the encore - Queen's signature "Bohemian Rhapsody" - there's trouble in paradise.

The execution:

As dopey as the book is - and it's terrifically stupid - the show is just an excuse to sing 24 of Queen's greatest hits. With a fabulous song catalog to choose from, no one in the audience will be disappointed with the creators' choices: "Radio Ga Ga," "I Want to Break Free," "Somebody to Love," "I Want It All," "Headlong," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Another One Bites the Dust," "We Are the Champions." The hits keep on coming, shoehorned into a lame plot that's like a futuristic, hard-rock Footloose.

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Many years in the future, the world is controlled by monolithic Globalsoft (Jacqueline Arnold and P.J. Griffith). Everyone's been brainwashed, there's no individuality, no music. Through the power of rock, a quarreling set of romantic outcasts (Brian Justin Crum and Ruby Lewis) smash the conglomerate and rescue all Bohemians (Ryan Knowles, Erica Peck, and Danny Balkwill, among others). Blah, blah, blah. You get the premise.

The juggernaut of WWRY, which is still playing to full houses in London fourteen years after its premiere, has spawned productions all over the globe. Its success has been tremendous, a testament to Queen's enduring legacy. This touring production, on its current American conquest, has been tweaked to skewer the most synthetic pop icons: Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers (OK, that boy band's not so relevant right now, but their mention still gets a laugh). No matter how many years we go into the future, all comic references, cheap laughs all, are strictly today. The concept's so dusty, what else can writer/director Ben Elton do but blind us with techno lighting, video game graphics, and robotic choreography?

But the show's saving grace, it's only grace, are the vibrantly alive performances from powerhouse singers and the propulsive band, led by Rick Hip-Flores. I don't think there's been a more polished cast of singers in recent memory at Theatre Under The Stars. They wail, rock, and blow us away. This tour started in Baltimore last October and is scheduled to finish in Los Angeles in August; how any of these complete professionals still retain their voices is a mystery to be answered by vocal coaches and overworked otolaryngologists. The future world of Broadway musicals is in very fine shape with all these prodigiously talented folk, even if they have to knock themselves silly in such a mechanical enterprise.

Crum, a muscular little dynamo, has no problem at all channeling the operatic-type vocal demands required by Queen's iconic lead singer/songwriter Freddie Mercury. His singing is an exceptional blast of emotion. He's constantly on the prowl, a bundle of raw nerves, a most appealing young rebel with a cause. Ms. Lewis, whose voice almost matches Crum's with its unstinting power, makes a lovely romantic foil, softly spiky and naturally warm under her hard, pretend shell. Although Knowles only gets one number, the autumnal "These Are the Days of Our Lives," he slyly steals every scene as ultimate stoner Buddy. Playing the role as if AWOL from a Cheech and Chong flick, his wispy physicality and three-octave speaking voice bring a welcome bounce to any plodding plot. We get a contact high just by watching. He's a delight.

The verdict:

If you're a Queen queen, this pseudo-concert musical will have you waving your arms in blissful ecstasy. If you're looking for a complete musical meal, the music and the singing will more than satisfy. Sometimes you just have to settle for dessert. Bummer, man.

We Will Rock You vibrates through February 3 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. Purchase tickets online at TUTS.com or call 713-558-8887. $24-$212.

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