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WE WILL ROCK YOU (article first published : 2006-10-4)

Love the music of Queen? Enjoy Ben Elton’s caustic dry humour? Think the Playhouse Opera is one of the most exciting venues we have? Add to that, some stunning performances and music from an all-South African cast; the most powerful lighting rig you’ve ever seen in the venue; a magnificent array of wild and wonderful costumes complemented by some slick and very clever audiovisuals; Vicky Sampson, and … Malcolm Terrey?

Excited enough? Then read all this later and head on down to the Playhouse. Not convinced? OK - then read on.

The long-awaited We Will Rock You is everything it’s been hyped up to be – explosive, visually superb and highly energetic – and the production can stand on its own on an international level. It’s described as “a new breed of musical” – in this case, a unique collaboration between rock legends Queen and British writer, Ben Elton. Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor have shown a strong interest in the concept from the start. All three guitarists each play one of Brian May’s own guitars in the show.

At the end of the evening, I felt immensely proud that as an entertainment industry we are capable of pulling off a production this size under the close association of the international director Andrew Pole, choreographer Lisa O’Dea and Music Supervisor Mike Dixon. Producer Hazel Feldman has chosen well with her local team with the inimitable Bryan Schimmel as music director and Jill Somers and Bryan Hill as resident choreographer and director respectively.

The setting is 2306 in a Ga Ga world monopolised by Globalsoft and ruled by Killer Queen – people don’t have names, only websites. They have been programmed to do as they are told: think bland thoughts, eat junk food and wear the same kind of clothes. All musical instruments have been banned and any music permitted has to be downloaded from computers. Musical phrases produced by the human brain are a thing of the past.

However, all is not a plastic mindless sameness. There are rebels hiding out in the landscape making instruments out of boxes and string, playing percussion with dustbin lids and preserving names of rock stars and their music. They are brave and strong but live in danger of being brain-fried by the dreaded Secret Police. Then a young man (Galileo) starts blurting out phrases from rock numbers. Musical sequences roll around his brain but he has absolutely no idea what any of it means. It’s up to his girlfriend (Scaramouche) and a crusty old biker (Pops) to help him find the way.

The storyline is strongly linked to the music and the apt use of song titles and phrases cleverly form part of the conversation. The musical is not touted as a Queen tribute but a "rock theatre" experience. However, the memory of Freddie Mercury is much to the fore and the show features 24 of Queen's greatest hits, including Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are The Champions, Another One Bites The Dust and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Looking impressive in a stunning array of costumes and making an entrance to die for, Vicky Sampson is imposing as the Killer Queen. A strong Durban audience favourite, Malcolm Terrey virtually walks off with the show as Pops. Neels Clasen is a delight as Killer Queen’s sycophantic sidekick, Khashoggi. Most of the songs are in the highly capable hands of Francois Lliam and Helen Burger who considerably impress as the young couple. Another delightful duo is Britney and Oz played by Murray Todd and Talia Kodesh.

The dance numbers are clean and crisp and the show also includes Durban’s Dean Roberts as one of the ensemble actors and guitarist Rowan Stuart.

In charge of set, sound, lighting and the like is South African Technical Manager Alistair Kilbee who worked with Hazel Feldman on the smash-hit Chicago last year. The effects are brilliant with the movable rig on stage offering even more lighting patterns. The music is rock solid and faithful to the original and sound is powerful and clear. The set has come from the Australian production and includes some great features, including Killer Queen’s throne. Now we know what was in those fourteen 40ft pantechnicons that rumbled into the Playhouse!

We Will Rock You runs in the Playhouse Opera until October 29. Book through Computicket outlets or on 083 915 8000 or Playhouse box office on 031 369 9555. Performances Tuesdays to Fridays (20h00); Saturdays (16h00 and 20h00) and Sundays (14h00 and 18h00). Tickets R150 to R350 Tuesdays to Saturdays (both shows) and R100 to R300 on Sundays (both shows). Group bookings through Samantha on 011 340 8128. For show information visit www.wewillrockyou.co.za

Since the first show in Johannesburg in May 2006, followed by an eight week season at Artscape in Cape Town, We Will Rock You has enjoyed rave reviews and standing ovations at every performance. Globally, more than five million people have seen the show to date. Miss it at your peril – “it absolutely drives me wild!”! – Caroline Smart




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