The crazy little thing about We Will Rock You, the jukebox musical that uses the songs of British rock band Queen to portray an Orwellian vision of earth in the distant future, is how technically bad theater can be so much fun.
We Will Rock You, written and directed by English comic and author Ben Elton, and playing Miami through Sunday, is set in a world where rock music is whack and individualism is verboten. The dialogue has enough groaners to fuel a season of Fox sitcoms and enough cheese in its stage design and conception to merit the stamp, Made in Wisconsin.
But, to borrow a song title from another rock group, if you go into this energetic, garish and goofy show expecting Nothin’ But a Good Time, your two-plus hours at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts will be rewarded big time. The music is infectious, the eight-piece rock band, perched high on the stage above the main set, is terrific and the voices of the leads do the late Freddie Mercury justice. Ruby Lewis, as the rebellious love interest Scaramouche, sings the 1976 Queen hit, Somebody to Love, with such power and range that you’re forgiven if this becomes your favorite version of the song.
Of course, it helps if you also go in armed with a fondness for the driving, melodic and joyous music of Queen and an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture. Miley Cyrus’ twerking at the recent MTV Video Music Awards is referenced in this musical. The show also takes digs at American Idol, which is blamed for killing rock ‘n’ roll (true, that), the Jonas Brothers, Twitter and Kung Fu Fighting. Yes, We Will Rock You reaches far back to wring jokes out of dialogue that is mostly constructed around song lyrics from Elvis Presley to Eminem. If you appreciate the humor or get the reference in the following passage, then We Will Rock You is set to stun on your radar:
“They’re taking us to Disneyland!” Buddy (as in Holly) cries in horror when captured by the bad guy, Khashoggi , who gets his name from the Queen album cut, Khashoggi’s Ship.
“That’ll be the day,” Khashoggi cracks. Insert laughter. Or not.
The plot revolves around the earth’s sole remaining corporation, GlobalSoft, which dictates thought control. Allowable music is pre-programmed pabulum. “Computer-recorded, Auto-Tuned pop.” Or “CRAP” our rebels, led by Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), Scaramouche and Buddy (Ryan Knowles), spell out.
People on this dystopian Earth are unimaginative automatons except for these rebels who are chased by the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her henchman, Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith). Earth, now known as iPlanet, resembles the set from Kiss’ Lick It Up video from early-1980’s MTV.
Galileo, the dreamer paired with Scaramouche, hears rock, pop and hip-hop lyrics in his sleep. These tantalizing tidbits serve as talismans of individuality and freedom, he thinks, if only he can figure out what they mean. Our heroes might not have much time to ponder. “We’re a virus on their hard drive and they won’t give up until they’ve dragged us to the trash.”
Elton’s book serves primarily to pop another Queen song onto the stage. Some of them, like Radio Ga Ga, have rewritten lyrics to fit the story while others, Headlong and Hammer to Fall, are thematically fine as originally written.
Some of the best moments belong to mid-’80s songs that were hits in the United Kingdom, like the semi-classical ballad, Who Wants to Live Forever, which is beautifully sung in harmony by Crum and Lewis in the second act. The finale, set to the stomping sports anthems We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions thrills.
And do not flee the Arsht after curtain call because the cast returns to perform one more song, unbilled in the program, one that had the opening night audience in rhapsody and on its feet. If you have to ask which tune that is, then We Will Rock You isn’t for you.