Following on from its opening week in Newcastle, and then a quick trip across the water to Ireland, Bohemian Rhapsody, an absolute juggernaut of a show, has now thundered into the south coast’s natural home of rock music – Eastbourne! Ok, maybe it’s not the most natural choice, but the venue suits the show perfectly and the opening night audience proved admirably that “there’s life in the old dogs yet.”
Unlike the many and varied tribute shows that feature the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen, this is certainly not a Stars in Their Eyes style look-a-like show, nor indeed is it a sound-a-like show. It is a celebration and an appreciation of some of the best rock music ever written and of the supremely talented band that delivered it.
The talent of the original musicians is surprisingly well recreated by the five-piece band that stand high on a metal gantry at the back of the stage, surrounded by a dramatic and versatile lightshow and, as the curtain rises, they give all they can to the opening number, “We Will Rock You”.
Between the band and the audience, adorned in a fantastic combination of lingerie and leather, are the eight vocalists poised and ready to deliver some of the most iconic rock songs of the last 40 years. Considering that they are about to power their way through over 30 rock songs, the cast list actually reads like a who’s who of theatreland, including stars of Cats, Phantom, Priscilla, Wicked, We Will Rock You, Joseph, Grease and even a chart-topping pop-opera singer.
Accompanied by four superbly raunchy and athletic dancers, who work tirelessly throughout the show to provide some “down and dirty” dance moves, the vocalists deliver every song with power, conviction, some perfect harmonies and, above all, with respect.
It would be impossible to list all the good points of this show in such limited space, but here are some of the highlights. Simon Bowman swapping his Phantom mask for tattoos, red glittery hair and a guitar to give us “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt strutting and pouting as she proves that she is every inch the “Killer Queen” and Andrew Derbyshire moving on from his Joseph loincloth by stripping down to an impossibly small pair of red briefs and suspenders in “I Want To Break Free”
Erin Cornell, Rachael Wooding and Lucinda Shaw, together with Hamilton-Barritt shine brilliantly in their poignant rendition of “The Show Must Go On” but, not totally unexpectedly, it is the boys who deliver the showstoppers with Jonathan Ansell at his operatic best and absolutely raising the roof with his performance of “Barcelona” and getting the first standing ovation of the evening.
Special mention must go to Duncan Heather who blasts his way through “Seven Seas of Rhye” and delivers a flawless version of Freddie’s solo success, “The Great Pretender”, displaying a superb high tenor voice, and a stage presence that exudes a confidence in his natural performing ability.
No one will ever replace Freddie, and these performers, respectfully, don’t even try, but they do showcase the music in a production that is every Queen fans dream come true. Bohemian Rhapsody is passionate, raunchy, flamboyant, dramatic and fantastically entertaining – just like the man himself.