Jukebox musicals have been around for quite a while, and their recent resurgence in popularity probably has a lot to do with the success of the ABBA-fuelled musical Mama Mia. We Will Rock You tortuously twists the songs of Queen into an effervescent musical that is now in its eleventh year in London’s West End, selling more than 15 million tickets worldwide. An arena tour of the production is returning after two years to the Forum Copenhagen for five nights of a right royal knees-up.
Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor originally got together with author and stand-up comedian Ben Elton to create the show. Ben Elton has cobbled together a Frankenstein’s monster of a storyline, rich in self-irony and one-liners – but it is without a doubt the instantly recognisable Queen songs that have packed out theatres for more than 3,500 shows.
The plot? Well, we are in an Orwellian future, where globalisation has reached its inevitable conclusion. All music is computer-generated and consists solely of boy and girl bands. The Global Soft corporation controls the music industry and hits are planned years ahead. Sounds familiar? It’s basically a Simon Cowell XF scenario of nightmarish proportions: a world in which musical instruments are forbidden. A small band of rebels who want to break free, the Bohemians, are waiting underground for the restrumming of the lost chords: a day prophesised as The Rhapsody. According to legend, the axe of a mighty, longhaired guitar god will one day be rediscovered. Cue our hero: Galileo Figaro, a rebel who, with the aptly named Scaramouche, sets off on the quest for the holy grail. They head to the only place the axe could be: Wembley Stadium! The plot may sound slightly bonkers, but once you have accepted that this storyline is firmly tongue-in-cheek, then you can sit back and enjoy the ride
At a very early stage in the planning, Elton decided that this was in no way to be a biography of the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, but it is impossible to listen to the music of Queen without being touched by his presence. As regards the plot, Elton makes no claims to weightiness: “Fitting the songs in was not a problem once I’d had the idea of a mock legend – where instead of a sword buried in rock waiting for a hero to save the world, there was a guitar.”
But imagine the day after the first show back in 2002, when hostile reviewers put Elton under pressure and had a field day with comments like “a trite and tacky storyline”, “pantomime has arrived a little early in the West End, in the shape of this shallow, stupid and totally vacuous new musical,” and “far from being guaranteed to blow your mind, We Will Rock You is guaranteed to bore you rigid.” Kevin O’Sullivan from the Daily Mirror even went as far as saying that “Ben Elton should be shot for this risible story.”
A decade later, the two hour and 40-minute show didn’t bite the dust, and it seems as if Elton has indeed created a kind of magic. The show is still hugely popular and it seems that sometimes all an audience wants to do is have a good old-fashioned fun night out. Forget the lack of a coherent storyline, forgive the one-liners, innuendo and absurd character names, because the essence of this production is the music. It is quite simply a loud and colourful appreciation of the music created by a legendary band, not a critically-acclaimed example of high art. Thirty-one of Queen’s most well-known tracks are brought back to life for highly appreciative and vocal audiences. The undeniably partisan atmosphere is completed at the end of the night when the rhetorical question flashes up on the giant screens: ‘Do you want Bohemian Rhapsody?’ In a theatre jam-packed with Queen fans, the answer is understandably roared back in the affirmative. So the show must go on for at least one number.
The Danish shows feature the vocal talents of Mig Ayesa as Galileo, Lauren Samuels as Scaramouche, Rob Castell as Pop, former X Factor songstress Lucie Jones as Meat, Rolan Bell as Britney and Jenna Lee-James as Killer Queen, who all know how to play the game. It´s a show for all generations, so there’s no need to tie your mother down, and as ‘We are the Champions’ has long been the unofficial national anthem of Denmark, you can expect a livelier than usual audience over the five nights. We Will Rock You is a jukebox musical that even the guys should have no shame in enjoying!
We Will Rock You
Forum, Julius Thomsens Plads 1, Frederiksberg; starts Tue, ends March 16; performances Tue-Thu 20:00, March 15 at 16:30 & 21:00, March 16 at 15:30 & 20:00; tickets: 425-545kr, www.billetnet.dk; www.wewillrockyou.co.uk