Monday, 30 March 2009

We Will Rock You - Manchester Palace Theatre

We Will Rock You
Music/Lyrics: Queen
Book: Ben Elton
Director: Ben Elton
Choreography: Arlene Philips
Reviewer: Phillipa Jenkins

Manchester’s Palace Theatre was last night transformed as I have never before seen it. Outside lay the red carpet and waiting paparazzi, inside the foyer was awash with a whole host of eagerly excited patrons; families, Queen fans, celebrities. The auditorium was buzzing with anticipation and huge glitter balls hung from the ceiling, alongside enormous newly constructed rigging that ran across the front of the stage. This long-awaited rock musical had finally arrived.

Set in the future, the narrative tells of a society wherein ‘real’ music and all instruments are banned, and everyone is forced to resign themselves to the ‘Computer Recorded Anodyne Pop’ (I’ll leave the reader to construct the acronym…) distributed by huge corporations. An interesting concept, and one that obviously attempts to comment on the current status of the music industry, however it was a little slow to start and could perhaps have been told a little more coherently. Saying this, it didn’t impair my enjoyment of the show in any way. With a whole host of Queen hits, the story acts as a catalyst for these monster rock anthems, and you simply can’t fail to be swept along in the tide of enthusiasm and music, relishing the chance to clap along wherever possible.

Put simply, there were no let-down performances in this show. The role of Khashoggi was taken by Jonathan Wilkes, whose performance I feel was somewhat sadly overshadowed by the fact he brought Robbie Williams along to sit in the audience; I doubt any of the screaming girls were focusing much on the show as a result. He took on the role confidently and competently; now a musical theatre stalwart; and it was clear he was relishing the opportunity to play a ‘baddie’.

A hugely enjoyable performance from X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards was if I’m honest, somewhat of a surprise for me. She had the audience in stitches with her comical interpretation of the Killer Queen, and was more than happy to poke fun at herself and the ongoing brand of reality talent shows that we endure. And my, what a voice. She was tremendous. Kevin Kennedy was superb in his role as the old hippy librarian, and the vocals from the entire cast were exceptional, including the lead of Galileo; played by Alex Gaumond.

The show boasts an impressive set, possibly the most audacious a set I’ve seen at the Palace in years, and makes good use of digital media, which only served to reinforce the spectacle aspect. An intentionally daft show, with a script by Manchester University graduate Ben Elton who also directs and choreography by Mancunian Arlene Phillips, it was an event for everyone, Queen fan or not, and seemed very much on home turf.

I also found myself oddly emotional at ‘The Good Die Young’, which dedicates itself to a host of musical legends with obviously the most poignant being Freddie Mercury. The musical ended with a heart-stopping finale, and stop my heart did when Roger Taylor and Brian May emerged for a unforgettable opening-night encore of Bohemian Rhapsody. Needless to say the auditorium erupted in a frenzy, and once my heart recovered I was up on my feet with the rest of the audience.

Fairly sceptical prior to entering the theatre, I will definitely go and see this show again, which is possibly the best recommendation one can give. Ambitious, colourful, unashamedly daft, and with sensational musical performances from each and every cast and band member. Quite simply, the most fun I’ve had at the theatre for years.

We Will Rock You runs at the Palace Theatre until Sat 6th June 2009
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