Y’know that story about that guy…the guy who just doesn’t fit in, by way of actually fitting in, but nobody notices he fits in ‘cause there’s nothing he really does to stand out; and he basically just lives in a shack in oblivion, eats Cheetos all day, and has not an original thought in his head; no goals…no aspirations and no musical skill whatsoever (and most probably a questionable and singular odor now that I think of it) and dies a slow painful death schilling it (somewhat unbeknownst to him) for the vapid corporately funded “Man”. No? Yeah, well that’s not what this story is about…but close…very antithetically close…
The temperature is perfectly warm in dry August Los Angeles degrees…not unlike my chardonnay that I am suddenly made aware that I can bring into the theatre on this rocktastic night for this jammin’ performance. Most other comparatively uh…subdued shows at the Ahmanson do not allow for this, but let’s just say, tonight, they encourage you to enjoy your rock on the rocks! (The smoky scent of Pinot Grill wafts through the air as my stomach gives one last gurgle from the rather overworked flat bread of which I have only just partaken at the self-same establishment. But as I alight my seat just a few rows from the stage, the philosophical-conceptual heaviness of the rock emanating from the musicians will make a mere and tenuous memory of the actual heaviness of the rock vegetating in my stomach from this erstwhile theatrically proximate…gourmet snack…)
I enter just as the lights are dimming and a basso-profundo-voiced-Wolfman-Jacked-out recording tells us all to extinguish all cellular devices (though I will soon come to find out that no one will be any the wiser if portables are left on as this musical tour de force will be just that loud!!!): “Let the babysitter enjoy her party! [‘cause] if your Backstreet Boys ringtone kicks in you’re going to feel like a total douche.” ‘Backstreet Boys’… um…’douche’? Written in the late 90s/early 2000s was this advisement?
A scrim descends in front of the stage as Star Wars-like credits and captions set the tone for the beginning of our story, “The Time is the Future” (about 300 years into it and everyone lives their life online ad infantum)—“iPlanet remains of what once was Earth.” Yes–It is—this INTENSE! Lights up on Radio Ga Ga by the Ga Ga kids—looking futuristically like Lady Gaga herself in what resemble rainbow colored lady(lay lay)-Lederhosen and Crocs. This will be the only song wherein the lyrics are changed to Internet Gaga “Everything we Get, We download from the Internet—All we hear is Cyberspace Gaga…” reflecting a virtual life now lived in ‘perfection’ and conformity at the expense of any sort of original thought, innovative fashion-sense, and/or any real and organic music that does not derive from a computer program/Globalsoft. (As much as I love Radio Gaga this, of all Queen’s songs would be the one to be bastardize in order to illustrate how bastardized the world has been rendered as it is just bubble-gummy enough to get away with it, yet still Queen-like enough to remain in the show.)
What to do? What to do…? Surely this cannot have been what becomes of our planet—of our culture—of our lady shorts and footwear!?! We will soon find out; but not before being taunted as the plot worsens slightly with the appearance of “Killer Queen” (reminding me slightly-to-greatly of The Who’s “Acid Queen” in Tommy). Played by a fetchingly strong Jacqueline B. Arnold, she proclaims having once existed as a video game character—“half human/half pixilated”. It is she who controls Globalsoft and all processed music humming and thrumming on the planet. (Hmmm…might one of Tommy’s pinball games been upgraded to video once long ago and roughly 340 years hence…and voila? And you see how it all comes full circle?) It is she who has heard tell of a secret cache of real and antique musical instruments laying dormant somewhere on the planet up for possible capture of a rogue group of Bohemians. This she cannot abide.
Unable to keep tabs on this all herself (despite what we can only assume would be the latest and greatest in any and all surveillance techniques beyond our ken in 2014) she has enlisted the assistance (well coerced it really) of Commander Khashoggi (decidedly reminiscent of Max Headroom—though—trust me– there’s a reason no one ever made a musical after him) head of Globalsoft’s police force. It is Khashoggi (sung powerfully by a rather arresting and albino-haired P.J. Griffith) who will go in search of said auditory artillery and bothersome beatniks!
Enter Galileo—Galileo Figaro—(portrayed by an intriguing and golden-voiced Brian Justin Crum) our assumed protagonist (finally)! (It is as though Queen came back from the future to write a really bitchin’ song about him by way of Bohemian Rhapsody, the likes of which Rod Serling never had the balls to investigate.) It is his last day of high school and he knows he is different (even I can suss this out as he is bereft of lady-Lederhosen wearing a very fetching, retro-chic jeans and T-Shirt Combo!); “I don’t want to program music. I want to record it,” laments our protagonist at the perceived future, while blindly pining after the past.
“Kid you live in a perfect world, what could you possibly want?”
“I want—to Break Free!”— At this point, there is mass silence, a few dry coughs and a barely discernible Bee Gees song wheezed out by one of the stage hands as everyone files off stage and out of the theatre and we all go home for the evening…
NAY but I jest! It’s all only just gittin’ started–This, is only the introduction to one of the first authentically performed songs of the unfolding two hours and it only gets more groovin’ from here on out! For not only does Galileo want to break free…he’s got questions…more and more questions about life the universe and this ROCK upon which we live, “So many questions ring through my head. Why do fools fall in love? Who’s the real Slim Shady? Do you think I’m sexy? Who let the dogs out?” (Oh if only he knew how pressing, yet nonsensical these queries are even back then—or would that be back now…? He might be very disappointed he had wasted so much time muddling it all over. Really…)
Nevertheless, Galileo is HOT and formulaically speaking, needs a female counterpart/love interest. Enter some cute chick with a bangin’ figure and no name (aside from her assigned usernames they all cop online). Galileo will dub her Scaramouche (apparently women have come this far in 300 years so as to neither name or think for themselves). But all this will change when Scaramouche (played by a tenacious and platinum-voiced Ruby Lewis) boldly pushes to go on all his adventures in search of free thought and free musical exchange despite his somewhat sexist excuses to the contrary.
Upon their travels they will ultimately come upon The Bohemians—Namely Oz (named after Ozzie Osbourne) played valiantly by a one Erica Peck, Brit—dubbed after Britney Spears, portrayed by a stalwart and somewhat bulldoggish, albeit friendly, Jared Zirilli, and the hilarious Buddy (after Buddy Holly) brought to us by a singularly deep, somewhat Wolfman Jack-voiced Ryan Knowles.
It is this trio along with their modest group of cohorts who will lead them all to the “place of the living rock”, Heartbreak Hotel, The Seven Seas of Rhye, in search of living instruments and free musical expression all the while making references to things like “The Hard Rock Café”, Video Tapes (which, due to their vast sense or archaicness they pronounced “vid-eooo tappy”), and Beyonce (a name mangled to the point of sounding much like an exotic Italian white wine—Beeankee/Bianchi?)—Um…really, in light of the fact that they all speak perfectly uniform sounding, Standard-American English, has the phonetic language changed THAT much in the last 300 years…? Hmm…
Irrespective of this and from here on out, all adventures are possible! But does it deliver, i.e. the premise et al? The overall story, while evincing some moments of pronounced humor and singular intrigue, is relatively formulaic. I will later be advised that it is not too dissimilar to Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage—to a much more interesting sounding story line. Rock n’ Roll as the end all be all in human rebellion…? Hmmm…yes it’s rather been done all to death, don’t you think? Not to mention the fact that any sort of famous and mainstream rock n’ roll, no matter how amazing and musically sound is all controlled by The Man anyway—The Man rock n’ roll followers only think they’re revolting against by giving said Man more money for any and all possible musical manipulation and mind control supremacy, but that’s another story for another time—conspiracy-style. (And don’t even get me started on my disorientation at the mention of Britney and Beyonce as some noted historic presences in any rock n’ roll lexicon. The only reason I’m assuming these names were utilized would be to entice the current and present younglings of our generation…?)
The production’s band comprised of Nate Patten (conductor), Brandon Etheridge (Assistant Conductor), Brandon Etheridge and Emily Marshall (Keyboards), Tristan Avakian and Bob Wegner (Guitar), Mike Cohen (Bass), David Stevens (Percussion), Danny Young (Drums—not to be confused with percussion) and music coordinator John Miller, plays onstage to hidden effect above and somewhat behind the stage (obscured by either lighting or some sort of scrim); though they do make an appearance at one point during this extravaganza. They play each and every Queen song to a T and they, along with the singers, are the highlight of the evening! Noted songs include, Radio Ga Ga, I want to Break Free, Under Pressure, I Want it All, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Seven Seas of Rye, Fat Bottomed Girls, Another One Bites the Dust, and last but certainly not least, We will Rock You. The theme from Flash Gordon (“Flash A-ah!) is one that stands out in my mind as the primary scene of the second act opens snapping us back into musical reality yet again, to flashes of light of iPlante/Globalsoft torture devices as Khasshogi has captured our protagonists in their quest NOT to be tortured by conformity ever longer.
All performances are strong to stellar and the production value laudably intense. From, the acting, to the singing, to lighting by Willie Williams, to sound design by Bobby Aitken, to costuming by Tim Goodchild, Hair and Make-up by John ‘Jack’ Curtin, to original production design by Mark Fisher, and Associate scenic design by Ric Lipson, it is all exceedingly slick, polished and professional!
We Will Rock You runs at Los Angeles’ prestigious Ahmanson Theatre until August 24th.
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