By Dana Casadei
It starts with the tap of the toe. Then it moves up to the ankle. The whole foot is now moving. It’s getting stronger, and next thing you know it has taken over your whole hand. Fingers pulsing, trying to keep your head in control. Don’t start the head bob, you tell yourself, but you can’t help it. The beat has taken over your entire body. And you’ve been infected…with the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll.
During the two-and-a-half hours of the musical “We Will Rock You,” it will take serious willpower, much more than I had, to keep from tapping your foot along to one of the 24 featured songs by the British rock band Queen.
As the legend begins, or in this case the video on stage, we are now in a futuristic place, iPlanet, that no longer believes in individualism. Everyone is all about social media, even more so than today. That’s how they watch the same videos, and more importantly, listen to the same music. Any form of rock ‘n’ roll is unheard of, and musical instruments have been banned.
But hidden away in an abandoned Hard Rock Cafe are the Bohemians. They are a group looking for a hero to help them bring back rock. Luckily for them, their hero will be found before Act I is over.
After graduating from Virtual High School, Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), a man that wants to make music instead of program it, and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) are both labeled as the graduating class’s Bohemians. The duo then meet while in jail and decide to get away. Once on their journey, they meet Brit (Jared Zirilli) and Oz (Erica Peck), who take them to the underground rebellion. Brit tells his fellow Bohemians, including Buddy (standout Ryan Knowles), that Galileo is the man they have been looking for. He will help them find the mighty axe and restore rock ‘n’ roll to the people.
The rest of the show follows the group as they race against the cops and the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) to find the axe before they get to the musical instrument.
In the majority of the musicals I’ve seen, one of the leads is always a better vocalist. Sometimes that’s by a small margin, other times by a much larger one. That’s not the case here. Both Crum and Lewis are pretty spectacular. They can both rock to slower ballads and more up-tempo, larger numbers, and do them justice. When each sang for the first time I was immediately excited to see what they would be bringing to the rest of the show. Their vocal styles are different, but the vocal arrangements let each shine and make their harmonies sound as smooth as butter.
The musical’s creator and director, Ben Elton, is a man that knows his audience well. The version that’s seen at the Fisher is one that was penned specifically for a U.S. audience. Pop culture references in the show are constantly changing in order to be more up to date. Needless to say, this show has a twerking joke. And when the show began in 2002, it took place at Planet Mall. But a few years ago it was changed to iPlanet.
Elton seamlessly incorporates lyrics and song titles into his book. When we meet members of the Bohemians, each has the name of a legendary artist, and bits of their dialogue are often lyrics or titles from their artist namesake’s songs.
While I enjoyed the majority of the show, there are some plot holes and moments that feel underdeveloped. I get what he wanted to do with some of these relationships, but it felt a little rushed and unrealistic.
Lighting designer Willie Williams really makes you feel like you’re at a concert. The lighting effects are as impressive as they would be at any show at the Palace or other big venue. I’m usually not big on using video during a play or musical, but it works here. What video directors Mark Fisher and Williams created isn’t overly distracting and helps tell the story.
One thing I did notice at last night’s performance was that people were either really into this or counting the minutes until they could leave. This is a great show to take someone that might not really be into theater, but people who love the more traditional musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein may find this a little too much to bear. For the rest of you, get ready to rock. And throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.
‘We Will Rock You’
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through April 13. 2 hours, 30 minutes. $35+. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com