By Troy Hasselman, December 20 2019 —
Famously, the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury said his bands’ shows aren’t just live renditions of songs. “They’re theatrical events,” he summed up.
Fittingly, Queen’s music has been turned into a full-on musical in We Will Rock You, which initially premiered on London’s West End in 2002 and has since become one of the longest running musicals in the history of the West End and has been performed all over the world. We Will Rock You is currently on a North American tour and is set to be performed in Calgary on Dec. 27–29.
The musical tells the story of a dystopian future, where the planet is controlled by an oligarchic corporation called Globalsoft, headed by the Killer Queen. Music is outlawed and all citizens are forced to think and act alike. The story follows a group of outcasts that try to restore freedom and music to their society. The play features renditions of numerous Queen hits including “We are the Champions,” “Under Pressure,” “I Want to Break Free,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and the titular “We Will Rock You.”
For this production of We Will Rock You, a new score was composed by musical director Stuart Morley. This new score made the music to be more authentic to the original recordings of Queen.
“Stuart knows Brian May from Queen personally and they sat down in Brian May’s studio listening to original recordings of Freddie Mercury,” explains Vanessa Mitchell, who plays the role of Teacher in the current touring production. “Then Stuart, along with Brian, rearranged all the music to make it more authentic to what Freddie Mercury would have wanted which I think is fantastic because it gives the fans a closer representation of the music they loved. It was really great working with them.”
The current touring production has just wrapped up its American leg and the reception has been strong so far from the audiences the musical has played to.
“The audiences have been wild,” Mitchell says. “It seems like they feel they’re at a rock concert and by the end of the show they’re out of their seats and dancing along with us.”
The current tour speaks to the enduring quality of Queen’s music, with audiences of all ages still identifying with the band’s work. This endurance of Queen’s music has also been helped by last year’s Academy Award-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody.
Recently, especially with the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, we saw how much people still go crazy for Queen,” Mitchell says. “It seemed like the perfect time to do a tour of the show that was so successful in the UK.”
Along with Queen’s work enduring decades after Freddie Mercury’s death, the story behind We Will Rock You is still relevant today, 17 years after it first premiered. The work’s themes of freedom, self-expression and music still speak to audiences today.
“It’s basically a coming-of-age story and it’s relatable today, and it’s about the pushback of what society wants against what the powerful want and fighting for that freedom and the ability to express ourselves freely the way that we want to,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell says that playing the role of the Teacher, who acts as an antagonist in the production has been an interesting challenge as an actor.
“The teacher is interesting because she works with the Killer Queen and tries to get all of her students, the Gaga kids as we call them, to act and think the same,” Mitchell says. “She turns out to be a spy for the government of sorts and I’m the one who tells the Queen about these rebel Bohemians who are trying to take her down. It’s fun playing a mischievous character, she’s quite goofy as well and it’s different in anything that I’ve ever done. I usually play a show girl and it’s nice to play a character that has some mischievous elements as well.”
We Will Rock You will play at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium from Dec. 27–29. Tickets are available through the Jubilee Auditorium website.