Story by Kyle Poluyko
Photos by Paul Kolnik
The 1st National Tour of We Will Rock You opened a two-performance engagement November 26 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium to a near capacity and exuberant audience. Featuring twenty-four of Queen’s biggest hits, and written and directed by British novelist and playwright Ben Elton, We Will Rock You is a bonafide theatrical extravaganza.
Set in an ambiguously Orwellian future, Earth has ceased to exist as it once was, renamed the “iPlanet,” domineered and controlled by the Globalsoft Corporation and its ruler, Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her police commander Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith). Under this regime, diversity is non-existent. Mainstream conformity rules a society in which the GaGa Kids are carbon copies of one another – wearing the same clothes, being of the same thoughts and opinions, watching the same media, and listening to computer-generated music. Musical instruments and composition are forbidden – all but forgotten – as is rock music.
A young man named Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) is the outcast among the Kids. He has dreams and hears strange phrases in his head, many being lyrics of songs long since lost, though he knows they hold great significance.Refusing to conform, Galileo is captured by Khashoggi along with a young Goth girl, Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) tormented by her peers also for her failure to conform. Galileo and Scaramouche soon realize they are kindred spirits, rebellious, and feared by the rest of their society. Together they flee in search of the rumoured Bohemians, fellow dissidents. Their journey through the streets leads them to Brit (Jared Zirilli) and Oz (Erica Peck) who have been gathering materials to make musical instruments. Brit sees in Galileo the Dreamer whom he has long believed will arrive to fulfill a prophecy, and insists to the cynical Oz that Galileo is the key to bringing real music back into the world.
They bring Galileo and Scaramouche to the Heartbreak Hotel, ruins where Brit, Oz and the other Bohemians have made their home. They explain that they have taken take their names after singers long since passed – Brit for Britney Spears, Oz for Ozzy Osbourne, Buddy (Ryan Knowles) for Buddy Holly among others, and all mourn the deaths of those who died young. The group then celebrates the reason rock bands started playing music in the first place, which was for love. But a battle against the Killer Queen and Khashoggi, in which the Bohemians are sure to be the champions, still lies ahead.
Broadway veteran Crum is a passionate and stimulating Galileo, easily evoking empathy and confidence from the audience. His high-belting rock tenor voice is a sensational sound to behold. Lewis portrays a tough and self-assured Scaramouche, with a heart-breaking sensitive side that, too, captures the hearts of the audience. Her voice, however, is rapturous and euphoric with a power and control many of today’s pop “stars” simply cannot match. Zirilli and Peck as Brit and Oz respectively are paired perfectly. Zirilli captivates with compelling vocals and skilful comedic presence, both physical and phrasal. Peck, who originated the role of Scaramouche in the original Canadian production, is delightfully cynical with a robust voice.
Arnold and Griffin as the villains are as truly menacing, with dynamic and potent vocal performances. The actors and actresses of the ensemble are skilled dancers, performers – acrobats even – whose immense talents are critical to the story’s success. It was a special night as well for audiences as talented and accomplished Thunder Bay native Sam DiGiuseppe saw his career come full circle on stage of the Auditorium as a member of the We Will Rock You Ensemble.
The recent and disconcerting trend of touring productions using video screens and projections in place of traditional sets does not hinder We Will Rock You. In fact, the vibrancy and proportion of the technology heightens the impact of many of the shows scenes and performances.
Much like Mamma Mia! and its ingenious employ of ABBA’s catalogue, We Will Rock You serves up the classic rock hits of Queen to tell an entertaining story while mesmerizing and delighting audiences of all ages. We Will Rock You continues its tour with only one other Canadian stop, more dates in the United States and Mexico and is likely to land on Broadway in 2014. Thunder Bay audiences can take pride in the old adage “you saw it here first.”