“Do you want Bohemian Rhapsody?” the projection screen teases at the end of We Will Rock You. Yes, the crowd does want. They are stomping and hollering, amped up after a nonstop stream of Queen hits, and the only juggernaut they haven’t heard yet is the band’s six-minute masterpiece.
We Will Rock You is in tune with its audience. The surprise hit musical has been running since 2002 in the West End, and numerous international versions have circulated in the years since. The North American tour, currently at Dallas Summer Musicals, might suffer from a painfully awkward script and some clumsy attempts at modernization, but it still retains that jolt of Freddie Mercury electricity where it counts: the music.
The first thing to know about WWRY is that its plot is unendingly silly. The second is that its cast has pipes, especially Ruby Lewis as the female lead. She plays Scaramouche, a scrappy rebel chick in a futuristic world (known as iPlanet) where creativity is outlawed and music is computer recorded auto-tuned pop. She hooks up with another rebel teen, Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), who hears long-forgotten song lyrics in his head. Aided by a ragtag bunch called the Bohemians, they go on a quest against the cyber-ruling Killer Queen and her minion, Khashoggi, to bring original music back to the people.
I know. I know. Blame British comic and playwright Ben Elton for that bewildering premise, as well as some truly groan-worthy jokes (Elton also directs). For this tour, a bunch of Briticisms have been tossed out and replaced with an unending stream of Britney Spears/Facebook/twerking references. Ryan Knowles (embodying a groovy goofball) and Lewis especially find a way to revive these cheap laughs, but for the most part Elton’s script knows when to just shut up and make way for the tunes.
Backed by a jammin’ band (occasionally glimpsed rocking out above the stage), the cast lets loose on 23 of Queen’s beloved songs, supervised by original Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. There are times when the jukebox musical may as well just toss out its dramatic intentions and bill itself as a cover concert.
Mark Fisher and Willie Williams have designed video projections that actually enhance, rather than detract, from the action, mainly because they’re used sparingly enough to avoid overkill. Anyone who suffered through Ghost knows what a feat that is. The retro-gaming fantasy that plays out behind “Another One Bites the Dust” is a particular nostalgic delight. Tim Goodchild’s costumes are an elaborate game of “spot the pop star,” bringing a heavy dose of fun to this computerized world where Queen still reigns.