News Column

'Rock You' captures music and magic of Queen [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

November 1, 2013

YellowBrix

Stomp stomp clap. Stomp stomp clap.

"We Will Rock You," playing through Nov. 3 at the Benedum Center, Downtown, as part of PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburgh series, posits a future when "real life, real love" is unknown on the iPlanet and humans are but cogs in a machine called GlobalSoft.

The story is a cautionary tale built to showcase songs by the band Queen, but consider this: When this jukebox musical began running in London's West End in 2002, many people still held aloft lighters at the end of a concert. Now everyone hoists glowing cellphones.

Stomp stomp clap. Stomp stomp clap.

"We Will Rock You" is one of the Queen songs that's been played for decades during sporting events. Theatergoers might think they don't know any other songs by the band, which was at its peak in the '70s and early '80s. But, actually, you've heard them everywhere -- weddings, ringtones, TV commercials and movies.

What you might not know is how surprisingly beautiful these songs are when sung by performers with terrific, powerful voices.

On Oct. 29, Ruby Lewis' stunning rendition of "Somebody to Love" began drawing appreciative applause about three-quarters of the way through. Her duets with lead actor Brian Justin Crum on songs such as "Who Wants to Live Forever" provide many of the show's most uplifting moments.

Every singer in the cast boasts strong pipes. The iPlanet's cartoonish, ruthless ruler -- think "The Little Mermaid's" Ursula crossed with "Star Trek's" Borg Queen -- and her henchman -- think Max Headroom without the stutter -- are played by Jacqueline B. Arnold and P.J. Griffith, who shine on tunes such as "A Kind of Magic."

Great singing -- and comedy -- also is provided by Bohemians played by Erica Peck, Jared Zirilli and Ryan Knowles. Music is provided by a band on a platform above the stage.

But, back to the story. Before you can say "another brick in the wall" -- sorry, wrong British band -- we learn that the only virus that can shred GlobalSoft's worldwide web is the notion of individualism. And individualism will stay dormant as long as rock 'n' roll stays buried. We are told, "The kids can never know the power of rock."

Stomp stomp clap. Stomp stomp clap.

"We Will Rock You's" freedom fighters, the Bohemians, seek a rock rhapsody that will reverse all that. Is the mysteriously unplugged Galileo Figaro (Crum) the prophet who will lead them? Bewildering, random snippets pervade the puzzled Galileo's dreams. What, he wonders, is kung fu fighting? Who is the real Slim Shady?

Laughter came easily and often to the audience of baby boomers as the Bohemians struggle to make sense of relics and lyrics from the prehistoric Age of Rock. Gleaning clues from ancient concert T- shirts, they amusingly surmise what a Katy Perry looked like or how a Michael Jackson moved.

The beauty of this show is how simple it is to keep it current. The jokes will change as the cultural references are updated. When today's Miley Cyrus quip gets old, it will be swapped out for a lampoon of antics by another singer yet to make the headlines.

In fact, celebs probably will feel disappointed if they don't hear a quip about them or a mention of one of their lyrics.

If you go, some thoughts;

- Expect bursts of blinding strobe lights.

- If you ever loved Queen, the well-timed sound of the late Freddie Mercury's voice can still make you feel verklempt.

- It's a teen-friendly show. Some sexually suggestive lines are among the spoken dialogue and some dancers wear skimpy outfits. But it's tame by MTV Video Awards show standards.

- Check out the small Hard Rock Cafe-like display in the lobby, which exhibits handwritten lyrics by Queen's members and a kimono that Mercury wore onstage.

- Do not leave while the cast is taking its bows. As with any concert, if the house lights are still down, there might be an encore.

"We Will Rock You," which runs 2 1/2 hours, is only a couple of weeks into a U.S. tour, with the aim of landing a spot on Broadway a year from now. Does it qualify? Of course. You could do much worse.

Let's hope this cast goes with it.

"We Will Rock You" continues at 8 p.m. Nov. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 2; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Admission is $26 to $68. Details: 412- 456-6666 or www.trustarts.org.

Catherine Artman writes for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at cartman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7881.

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