The Queen-inspired jukebox musical "We Will Rock You" rolled out at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis Tuesday night, and the critical response is mixed.
A "Matrix"-inspired tale, the musical is set 300 years in the future, where almost every being is plugged into the singular vision of GlobalSoft, a soulless computer conglomerate that effectively killed rock 'n' roll. The production features songs by Queen throughout, but the narrative is chock-full of glowing references to several other classic rock 'n' roll artists and songs, and backhanded barbs at pop artists manufactured in the digital age of music.
The main characters take their names from the classic song "Bohemian Rhapsody," as protagonists Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) and a group of rock survivors known as the Bohemians try desperately to fight back against the establishment in an effort to revive the lost art form.
The show plays through Sunday at the Orpheum.
Critic Dominic P. Papatola of the Pioneer Press knocks "We Will Rock You," saying it "isn't much of a show."
"Great as many perceive their music to be, the songs, with a couple of exceptions, aren't exactly masterpieces of narrative," Papatola writes.
The critic does compliment some song performances, noting how the crowd reacted enthusiastically to "Lewis' rafter-shaking interpretation of 'Somebody to Love' and grooved to the charm of Lewis and Brian Justin Crum performing 'You're My Best Friend.'" He did note, however, that songs like "Radio Ga Ga" only got "polite" responses.
Star Tribune critic Rohan Preston also criticized the show, saying it didn't advance the narrative.
"Instead, it seems, the narrative is crafted simply to get to numbers such as 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love,' 'Fat Bottomed Girls' and, of course, the sports anthem title track," Preston writes.
My take: As a lifelong Queen fan who admittedly doesn't know every song in their catalog, I found the dialogue to be fun and peppy, and the performances exciting and energetic (especially by the spunky Lewis in showstoppers like "Somebody to Love"). Plus, as an old rock 'n' roller, I was thrilled how the narrative mercilessly poked fun at the pitfalls of today's ultra-slick music business and its fast-track approach to stardom in a blunt but non-mean-spirited sort of way.
Although the musical started playing in 2002 in London's West End (where it continues today), I found my first viewing of the production, with its sci-fi angle and high-tech set pieces, to be refreshing and satisfying. "We Will Rock You" is an older production in terms of the years since it debuted and its musical material, but somehow it feels new and fresh.
As expansive as the Queen catalog is, the musical would probably be better served by a "greatest hits" approach, rather than working songs like "Headlong" and "Now I'm Here" into the mix. Granted, the performances of the songs were visually pleasing, but the energy level in the audience wasn't nearly as strong as when the cast performed such classics as "Killer Queen," "Under Pressure," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and of course, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions."
Despite its peaks and valleys, "We Will Rock You" is rock musical for the ages, and if anything, audiences will be pleased to see Queen's songs come to life in a new and extraordinary way. The biggest highlight of the show came in the brilliant encore performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody," so don't hit the exits early.
While the band name Queen only gets scant mentions in the narrative, there are plenty of references to the group's late singer, Freddie Mercury. A performer who had a passion for the theatrical, one can only imagine how proud he'd be to see the band's material interpreted in a stage musical setting.