“We Will Rock You,” the super-charged Queen jukebox musical at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, is spectacular in every way.
Directed and choreographed with flair and passion by Amy McCleary, the literal rock show is a nonstop feast for the eyes, ears, and heart. Running through March 11, this high-energy celebration of the legendary rock and pop band boasts two dozen timeless hits including “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and the iconic title tune, as well as some killer Queen songs you likely aren’t familiar with.
Conceived and created by Ben Elton, “We Will Rock You” is set 300 years in the future in a globally corporate world. Planet Earth has been renamed the Planet Mall, and its leader – the sinister, coldly commanding Killer Queen – has banned all non-computer generated music. She has heard of a prophecy involving hidden instruments on the planet and a “Dreamer” who will show people the way to freedom. She orders her chief of police to crush any potential rebellion.
That young dreamer Galileo is desperate to break free from this capitalist world and is heralded as the star of the prophecy by the Bohemians who have been searching for the lost instruments. To fulfill the prophecy, Galileo must evade the clutches of the Killer Queen and bring back rock’s Holy Grail: the Brian May guitar buried in the remains of Wembley Stadium.
So this story is kind of nonsensical and silly, and fortunately the show and characters (many based on real rock/pop stars) don’t take themselves seriously. Like many jukebox musicals (especially ones that are not “biopics” about the famous group or singer), we’re eager to get from one hit song to the next, and fast-forward through the plot points.
This is particularly true with “We Will Rock You,” which merges more modern references that didn’t exist in the ’70s and ’80s heyday of Queen. A chief example of this is the line “Internet Ga Ga” early on in the 1984 hit “Radio Ga Ga.”
Queen — most famously fronted by the one-of-a-kind Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) — is ripe for the stage treatment, since they have been one of the most theatrical groups of all time. Mercury, and subsequently lead singer Adam Lambert, are extravagantly flamboyant personalities and Queen’s monster hit, the six-minute suite “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975) was called a “mock opera” by Mercury.
The stellar Circa production is packed with outstanding professional talent, from top to bottom. The heroic Galileo (named for one of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” characters) is played by hte likable 25-year-old Cameron Nies, and it’s not meant as a Mercury impression (though at one point late in the show he mimics a pose of Freddie projected on the eight video screens above the stage.
Among Nies’s many highlights are “I Want to Break Free,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions” and the (long-awaited) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which caps the show as an epic encore.
Nies and his stage partner Michaela Moore (as Scaramouche are electrifying and powerful in the duets “Under Pressure,” “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Hammer to Fall.” Moore shows off her amazing, strong voice in the first act “Somebody to Love.”
Another dominating pair in “We Will Rock You” is a mohawked Bobby Becher and black-clad Natalie Carrera as the wild, uninhibited Britt and Oz. They especially shine in the Act I closer “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a big, celebratory and infectious dance number.
Sarah Hayes and Marc Christopher are chilling and threatening as the evil Killer Queen and Khashoggi, respectively. Hayes is brutally forceful in “Killer Queen,” “Play the Game,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”
In another role that seems to be written for him, a nerdy, bespectacled Tristan Tapscott is the philosophical Buddy, a hippie version of Buddy Holly, who projects what Holly might have been if he survived into the late ’60s. Tapscott leads the Bohemians in “These Are the Days of Our Lives.”
Though one of my favorite Queen songs, “You’re My Best Friend,” didn’t make the cut here, the original recording was played as the audience leaves the theater.
Special kudos go to scenic designer Shannon Suit-Moore, lighting designer Haley Brown and costume designer Bradley Robert Jensen for also making the show a delirious joy to see.
Circa will present “We Will Rock You” on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday matinées at 1:15 p.m. Pre-show entertainment featuring the theatre’s wait staff the Bootleggers also will precede all performances. Tickets are $60.55 for the evening dinner-and-show productions and $53.73 for the Wednesday matinées.
Reservations are available through the Circa ’21 ticket office, at 1828 3rd Ave. in Rock Island or by calling 309-786-7733, ext. 2.