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'We Will Rock You': A Bohemian Musical


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. Whether or not you're a fan of rock and roll, you've surely heard at least one of the hits by Queen. The British band dominated the airwaves in the '70s and '80s and now their music is rocking the world again, this time in a jukebox musical called "We Will Rock You."

The show has been running in London for a dozen years but now an Americanized version is touring the United States and Canada. NPR's Allison Keyes was at the opening show in Baltimore.


QUEEN: (Singing) Mama, just killed a man.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The story here follows lead characters with familiar names to Queen fans: Galileo and Scaramouch.


QUEEN: (Singing) Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the fandango. Thunderbolts and lightening, very, very frightening me. Galileo, Galileo...

KEYES: Of course that's from the iconic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" which gives the show some of its back-story. The lead characters are individuals in a future where the world is controlled by a corporation. Everyone thinks alike and dresses alike. What passes for music is generated by computer and rock is unheard of.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) And everything, we want to get, we download from the Internet.

KEYES: As writer/director Ben Elton explains, a group of rebel bohemians, of course, is raging a battle to bring the power of rock back to the people, and they're doing it with snippets of lyrics from hit songs, the mangled names of rock stars. Elvis is remembered as a king named Pelvis, and a single videotape.

BEN ELTON: All they've got is half-remembered hits, just as we try and imagine what Greek culture might have been like, or Roman culture, from a few stones and scrolls and a few hints we try and imagine Caesar.

KEYES: Elton says in his vision rock and roll is equally distant to the past for them as Greek culture is to contemporary mankind.

ELTON: And an equally epic and mythical cultural force.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Can anybody find me somebody to love?

BRIAN JUSTIN CRUM: It's kind of your basic boy meets girl.

KEYES: Brian Justin Crum plays Galileo and says he identifies with his character's quest and with the message in Elton's story.

CRUM: What he's written more true than ever about what's going on right now in pop music and, you know, what it may or may not be lacking depending on who you talk to.


KEYES: Some critics wrinkle their noses at so-called jukebox musicals like this one, but legendary Queen guitarist Brian May doesn't think the term should be a put-down.

BRIAN MAY: You shouldn't start off with music and weave a story around the music. Apparently you should do it the other way around or something. But having seen what happens when it's done the other way around, very often you come out and there isn't a single song you can sing once you come out of the theater, you know. And I think a musical should have that musical connection.


KEYES: May helped create the show and sometimes drops in for a solo as he did when the tour opened in Baltimore. He says he's pleased that American audiences seem to get what was once as purely British phenomenon.

MAY: In England the characters are named after English rock stars on the whole, but here they're named after American rock stars and they bring their characteristics with them.

KEYES: May also things the show's softened Broadway's resistance to rock 'n' roll and paved the way for other musicals playing there, including "Jersey Boys" and "The Book of Mormon," so he hopes "We Will Rock You" will end up there.

MAY: A lot of people have trod the path with which we sort of beat out, in a sense, 12 years ago and, yeah, I think we've helped to change things and ironically, you know, we'd be the last to get to Broadway, but that's OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN AND WOMAN: (Singing) Nothing really matters to me.

KEYES: The musical "We Will Rock You" is booked in North America and Canada through August 2014. Allison Keyes, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.