We Will Rock You, now playing at the Ahmanson, is proof positive that great songs do not necessarily make for a great rock musical. Unlike the much better The Who’s Tommy before it, and Green Day’s American Idiot after it, the Queen jukebox piece flounders around, hampered by one of the worst books in recent memory (seriously, everyone talks as if they’re in a AT&T commercial).
Theoretically, the show follows Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum) and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), “bohemians” (aka rebels) who are determined to bring rock music back to the iplanet, a world run by the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her crony, Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith), and filled with “Computer Recorded Autotuned Pop — C.R.A.P.” Real, live music has been outlawed, apparently (another fault in Ben Elton’s crepe paper–thin book: Why does everyone sing rock music, including the people who banned rock music?).
The contrived plot meanders along, never maintaining any coherent sense of interpersonal relationships but going to extreme lengths to introduce Queen songs that are rarely relevant to the story. The only song that works in the context the show provides for it is Scaramouche and Galileo’s duet of “You’re My Best Friend.” Every other song feels forced, much like the constantly changing dynamic between Scaramouche and Galileo, who move from strangers to lovers to enemies to friends to groupie/star so abruptly it’s surprising no one leaves the theater with whiplash.
Adding insult to injury are the videos (by Mark Fisher and Willie Williams) that run behind the action on stage, as part of Fisher’s overall design. The graphics don’t appear to have been updated since the show premiered on London’s West End in 2002, and they give the production a doubly dated feel: While lyrics mention Khrushchev (juxtaposed with the book’s Miley Cyrus twerking jokes) the graphics are a throwback to the era of the original version of The Sims and Ask Jeeves (Jeeves: How many Miley Cyrus fans know who Khrushchev is?).
Luckily, the show does have one thing going for it: It sounds great. The band, under music director/conductor Nate Patten, is electric in all the right ways. Crum and Lewis are winning performers, with incredible voices that almost do the songs justice. It’s impossible to fill the shoes of Freddie Mercury, but these two do a good job. If only they weren’t dragged down by such an insipid show.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntn; through Aug.24. CenterTheatreGroup.org.
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