Bohemian Rhapsody, which travels to Eastbourne in July, is a brand new show celebrating the musical genius that was Freddie Mercury, and the hits of his band Queen. The production, which is already getting rave reviews, has a cast list that reads like a who’s who of the Theatreland’s best performers and I recently managed to catch up with three of them.
Duncan Heather is a self-confessed perfectionist who has already performed to great acclaim in the UK and around the world and is rapidly emerging as one of Britain's most promising soloists.
What’s it like performing some of the best known songs in the world?
Well, to be honest with you, it’s both challenging and rewarding. As you can imagine it’s quite tough because I am the top high tenor and I think that people underestimate the level that Freddie was. I mean he was a great showman but, vocally, some of the numbers are just pretty insane. We do about 35 of their songs throughout the show and none of them is easy so it’s a great challenge, but we love it. The arrangements and the songs are just timeless – so it’s great.
It must be daunting to emulate such a unique voice as Freddie’s.
Well, when it comes to pitch and how high I need to sing I find it easy, but it’s just getting the right feel for the music. My history is in musical theatre and I’m now in a show where I need to be a really strong rock tenor so that’s the biggest challenge. I think the important thing to understand about the show is that we are trying our very best to keep away from We Will Rock You and we’re not trying to be a Freddie tribute in any way at all. We are paying our respects to his music but we’re doing it our way.
So do you have a large cast in the show?
Well, yes, it’s huge in total with the band and the dancers but there are only eight vocalists, four girls and four boys, and we are the ones that feature the most. We’re all from West-End backgrounds, and, of course, Jonathan Ansell is amongst us as well. It’s a great stellar cast and I’m very proud and privileged to be a part of it, to be honest.
It’s quite a small tour so far, will you return?
Well, we opened in Newcastle last week, which was just the perfect venue to start in. We had packed houses for each of the five performances with 2000 Geordies going absolutely crazy for it. This week we are in Killarney in Ireland and we’re performing more in a concert hall type venue, which is different, but it really suits the show. We have a week off after this and then we are in Eastbourne before we take the show over to Monte Carlo. So yes, it’s quite small, but I think it’s more of a tester to see how it would go down.
I think the producer, David King, is checking out where the tour of We Will Rock You is heading and, although this show is nothing like that one, it is essentially Queen and we don’t want any overkill. Having said that, there are already rumours of a national tour and we’re all hoping that David will take the chance and run with it.
Well, the show has been getting some great press.
I think the key is that we’ve got eight singers who are all very different and we all bring something new to the music. As we are four guys and four girls we can cover a massive spectrum of Queen’s music and with the set and lighting design and our rocking band it’s just incredible. It’s unique, it’s working and we love it.
Andrew Derbyshire has played many roles, including the lead in the West End production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, before deciding to focus on his solo career and record his first album, which he is in the process of doing.
How does it feel singing all those superb songs?
Oh my God, I am absolutely so passionate about Queen. I started my career at 18 playing Galileo in We Will Rock You so I was very influenced by that, as I was in that musical for a year and a half. So, for me, this is about coming back to doing something that I really love, but this time I get to play a totally flamboyant, O.T.T character and I have a lot of fun and even get to deliver a few surprises, especially in “I Want to Break Free”.
On that point, some of the reviews have revealed, well, almost as much as you do yourself.
Oh dear me! Yeah, at first the costume was bigger but, with each show, it seems to get smaller and smaller so I’m spending all my spare time at the gym to make sure that I look as good as I can. I wasn’t very comfortable with the outfit at the beginning, but I’m getting into it now and yes, I do bare, almost, all – suspenders are involved as well! But I think that’s one of the fun factors of the show too, a bit of interaction with the audience.
How important is it to get the audience involved with the show?
Oh very. There were a lot of talks before the show opened about where “Break Free” would appear because normally that sort of number, with the striptease and the reveal, would come quite late on in Act Two but, as you rightly say, it’s very important to get them on your side. So I actually do the number quite early on in Act One and it really does get the audience going straight away and that gets them involved with the show a lot more.
It sounds like the show is a lot of fun to do.
Oh absolutely. I know most of the cast members too and so it makes doing the show much better and one of the main reasons I took the job is that the cast list is so amazing. You will see a lot of Queen tribute acts doing the rounds and they are really entertaining, but I can definitely say that this is one of the best vocal groups that have ever been assembled and the voices sound just incredible together.
We have a troupe of dancers too and the band is fantastic. I was a concerned, following on from We Will Rock You with a full rock band, that a touring band might not be so good, but the sound that comes from these guys is absolutely brilliant. When you combine that sound with the singers, who all bring a unique style, it’s really really good and we are getting such a fantastic response at every show.
Jonathan Ansell came to prominence after finishing second on TV’s X-Factor in 2004 with the pop-opera group G4 and since then has carved himself out an incredibly successful solo career as both a singer and as a theatre performer.
Is it right that I hear you’ve been fishing today?
Oh yes, we are here in a wonderful part of Ireland where it’s all about, for me, getting out into the countryside and doing a few walks and a bit of trout fishing. I’ve just had a lovely day of fishing and I’m catching loads so I’m looking forward to doing a bit more for the rest of this week and again when we get to Eastbourne. It’s not the most amazing weather today but it’s nice enough to be out and it’s great to be able to relax during the day as our nights are a bit busy.
Talking of which, you’re not exactly famous for your rock star voice are you?
Well no but, ironically, I got famous by singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” so I can’t help feeling that, weirdly, I’ve come full circle. We released that track, with the guys in G4, and had a top ten single with it but it was a very different performance to the way that we perform it in this show. It’s the same song but its wonderful how we get to re-interpret the music in a different way.
I’ve always loved the music and Queen has been a really big part of my life and a major influence in my career. I’m really enjoying performing some fantastic numbers like “Barcelona”, “Who Wants to Live Forever” and, with the rest of the guys, “Somebody to Love”. It’s great to be able to get my teeth into it and work together with some of the most amazing singers. It’s just such a great show to be involved with.
Is it important to you that this is seen as a re-interpretation of the music?
I think it’s important to not try and be Freddie because I don’t think anybody could, and I don’t think the show should really attempt to re-create that. I think that he was an incredible singer, performer and such a charismatic entertainer that he’s kind of untouchable. What is exciting about this production is that we’re not trying to do that, we are just paying homage to the wonderful music that was written and performed by these incredible musicians, and celebrating that with an audience that knows all the songs and is only too happy to sing along with us.
It’s not in any way a tribute show, it’s a new interpretation and, for me, it feels better to do it that way. I think if the show was all about trying to be a cover group for Queen it would probably be quite uncomfortable.
I have seen some production shots of Bohemian Rhapsody. Who designed those fantastic costumes?
We had a lovely lady called Lotte who has been putting them together for the last month or so, aren’t they great? It’s really nice to have that kind of eccentric outfits and the white set for the finale are just brilliant. The outfits are wonderfully ostentatious and flamboyant but they also help us to portray each of our characters and help us to express ourselves that way too. They are just terrific and we’re really lucky and happy to have such brilliant clothes.
Some of the costumes are a bit revealing too and so there have been a lot of last minute diets happening to make sure that they all look fabulous and it’s very exciting to be able to show different sides of people as many of the performers on stage have never worn clothes like that before but it really fits the show and the audiences seem to really like them too.
Bohemian Rhapsody can be seen at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne from 10 - 14 July, before transferring to the Monte Carlo Sporting Club from 6 – 14 August.