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We Will Rock You (Southampton - tour)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Ben Elton’s futuristic, and frankly barking, fantasy tale of the Earth three hundred years hence, renamed Planet Mall, and firmly under the control of Globalsoft – an all-encompassing global corporation, that has banned live music, instruments and song, and feeds manufactured, computerised pop to the masses – is the one flaw in an otherwise faultless ‘jukebox musical’ tribute to the brilliance of Queen, and an homage to the late Freddie Mercury.

Two rebels, Galileo (Noel Sullivan) and Scaramouche (Amanda Coutts) break free from the brainwashed and vapid world of conformity and, following Galileo’s dreams (where he hears extracts of ancient rock and roll lyrics) search for a lost music that will liberate the planet. They encounter a group of bohemians, fellow like-minded rebels, who worship ancient musical texts from a time known as ‘Rhapsody’, and who have been waiting for the Messiah-like ‘Dreamer’ to arrive and deliver them from their colourless world!

With a score that contains such classics as ‘We Are The Champions’, ‘ A Kind of Magic’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and the chokingly poignant ‘Only the Good Die Young’, even the direst of books could not diminish this juggernaut of an evening, where every song is a show-stopper, and there is enough of the characteristic Elton humour to carry things along, even if the story makes no sense at all.

Ironically, for a show that openly attacks Simon Cowell and the current culture of reality television, manufactured boy bands and pop idols, three of the headline stars have been plucked from that arena. Noel Sullivan, as part of manufactured pop group Hear’say, won Popstars in 2001, Rhydian Roberts (Khashoggi) was an X-Factor finalist, and Jenny Douglas (Meat) a potential Dorothy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over the Rainbow. The fact that all three deliver powerhouse performances here (Sullivan is a true revelation in the lead role) sort of disproves Elton’s bleak prophecy.

Amanda Coutts shines, with perhaps the best comic performance and vocals of the evening, knocking out ‘I Want to Break Free’, ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’, while Ian Reddington (as Pop) also pleases the crowd with the haunting ‘These Are The Days of Our Lives’.

Rhydian Roberts’ vocal style does not perhaps quite suit some of the songs given to him, but makes an impressive chief of police and henchman to Tiffany Graves’ Killer Queen – the high-camp, high-octane villain of the piece. In a knock-out performance, Graves belts out such greats as ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, but is let down a little by the acoustics, and much of her lyrics are lost in the all-consuming wall of sound.

Arlene Phillips’ energetic choreography and Willie Williams’ lighting design gives a spectacular rock concert feel. True stars of the evening though are the superb band, under the musical direction of Jim Henson, and especially the guitars (Nathan Welch, James Barber and Simon Croft) who brilliantly reproduce that authentic Queen sound.

After a relentless evening of one huge Queen hit after another, the crowd are whipped up into a frenzy of expectation, and even for those of us who absolutely loathed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ when it dominated the charts for all those weeks back in 1975 (well I was very young), it is impossible not to erupt when the entire cast finally give a full west-end style rendition of the seminal piece, and practically bring the house down with the final curtain.


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