One of the longest-running musicals in London’s West End history is heading to Tel Aviv next week. We Will Rock You, the over-the-top futuristic tale of a ragtag group of free-thinkers battling a stifling society may be short on plot, but it brilliantly utilizes a slew of 24 songs by classic British rockers Queen to hold things together and create an electrifying experience.
Seeing it in 2012 in London with my bar-mitzvah-aged son, we were both mesmerized by the spectacle and wowed by the music that compensated for the threadbare storyline.
A jukebox musical panned by critics
One of the first jukebox musicals, named so because a majority of the songs are well-known pop songs rather than based on an original musical score and compositions, WWRY became the longest-running musical at London’s Dominion Theatre, despite general panning by critics for its loosely held-together plot.
The original production closed in 2014, but not before it became the 11th longest-running musical in West End history. Since then, numerous international and touring productions have followed; this past June, the show returned to the West End for a 12-week run at the London Coliseum.
Successful British Jewish comedian, author, playwright, and actor Ben Elton worked closely with Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor to develop the show that would capture the spirit of their music and frontman Freddy Mercury’s star presence, while incorporating the band’s music into the story.
According to the production notes, “We Will Rock You presents an era where algorithms predict every human preference, musical instruments, and live music are long gone, and so, it provides something more suitable to our time: a fast-paced, fist-pumping, foot-stomping anthem to individuality.”
Elton said that he was inspired in part by the computer-controlled dystopia of The Matrix when creating the world that his characters rebelled against.
The result is kitsch meets glam rock meets Rocky Horror as the heroes try to save rock music in a post-apocalyptic world, with cast members bearing the names of characters from Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and other songs from their oeuvre.
As The Guardian puts it in a review of the London revival in June, “Earth has been conquered and renamed iPlanet. Only a group of badly dressed rock’n’rollers called the Bohemians can save it from the clutches of Killer Queen and Khashoggi. They are the baddies in this futuristic panto – there really is an urge to boo and hiss at them.
“The goodies come in the shape of odd couple Scaramouche and Galileo Figaro, who has a wobbly Long Island accent and an uncertain look: he might be a 1980s rocker, but may just as easily have stepped out of Happy Days.”
It’s the music, performed by a crack band and sung with gusto by the cast, that propels the show into the stratosphere. Hits include “Killer Queen,” “Under Pressure,” “We Are the Champions,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “I Want to Break Free,” the centerpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and, of course, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.”
The musical will be performed in Israel in English with translation into Hebrew. Performances will take place August 30 through September 9 at the Israeli Opera house. Some tickets are still available at www.israel-opera.co.il/eng.
Elton, when plugging the show on a TV talk show when it first opened, said, “‘We Will Rock You’ isn’t just a title… it’s a promise.’
Even if you’re not a huge Queen fan, it’s unlikely that you won’t succumb to WWRY’s – and Queen’s – particular charms.