Arts & Culture

Cameo: Brian May

Brian May, Queen guitarist; music supervisor for We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You is launching its
U.S. tour at the Hippodrome Oct. 15-20, but I read that neither you nor
[Queen drummer] Roger Taylor was a big fan of musicals before this.
What made you want to do this?

Well, We Will Rock You
is a musical, you know, and we came in to it as a body of people who
really didn’t relate that well to the genre of musical theater. We
didn’t want to put on something like My Fair Lady. This is rock and roll and it had to be something very different.

So, we kind of acquainted ourselves with the rules and we’re still
learning. You come in to this with a certain amount of humility
obviously, but you want to change the world. So, we kind of acquainted
ourselves and we gathered together a team around us, which was partly
built for rock and roll people and partly from theatrical people, and it
became this great kind of mélange. So, we sort of hesitated calling it a
musical because a musical means that old thing, so we said it’s a rock
theatrical. It’s something, which is very rock and roll, very organic,
but at the same time has the values of the musical theater, which is
that you encapsulate the whole story, the whole world in that couple of
hours when you’re on the stage.

I’ve read that the show sometimes changes or adds references
to appeal to local audiences. Anything planned for Baltimore or the
U.S., in general?

Ben Elton (Blackadder) is quite a
miraculous writer/producer because he will go in there with every new
company and be part of the creative process. He will look at somebody
playing [the villain] Khashoggi and say okay, well, maybe we can get you
to do this and maybe we can change the script to do this. And the whole
production will start to evolve in to something, which is rooted in the
town where it’s happening.

Queen’s catalogue is so well known and beloved. Were there any changes necessary to present the songs in this new format?

enough, it wasn’t that difficult to put the songs in there because
those songs are root bound. A lot of Queen stuff is about finding
yourself, finding freedom ah, breaking away from where you are, breaking
in to the world. You know, “We Are The Champions,” “I Want to Break
Free.” It’s kind of all there.

So yes, most of the songs are
delivered intact without even any lyric changes. But there are a couple
we took hold of and made them tell the story of We Will Rock You.
One is the introduction, which is “Radio Gaga.” “Radio Gaga” becomes a
song about what’s happening in the future, everything’s internet,
everything’s advertising, everything is kind of pushed in to your head,
the kids have no freedom to think for themselves. So, that becomes an
introductory song to the whole scenario of We Will Rock You,
which is a bleak future. The people are in chains, not physically, but
mentally, because they’re being fed what we’re being fed now—the whole
advertising and Internet saga, marketing, how everything is marketed.

Mercury was an iconic rock frontman with a remarkable voice. How
difficult is it to find people to fill his vocal shoes, so to speak? 

It’s a great thing, We Will Rock You,
because it has not become a rubber stamp. Most musicals you’ll find are
moved from city to city but they are stamped with exactly the same
moves, the same way of singing and same way of acting. We Will Rock You
has never been that way and we encourage people to bring their own
talents in to it and make it what they can make it. I mean there’s a
script obviously, and there are certain things which need to happen but,
within that there’s a lot of freedom for people to, to be themselves.

But it’s a big ask really, and it was very difficult in the beginning
to find people who understood what we were trying to do because
obviously you’re auditioning people who have brought up in musical
theater. They’re taught how to project, how to make each note last the
length of the syllable and it’s very much not what we wanted. We wanted
people to be instinctive and to be in a sense rock stars. So, they have
to be able to act, they have to be convincing, they have to be able to
sing. A lot of them have to be able to dance as well. 

And the final
big ask is you have to actually be a rock star, and it was hard in the
beginning but we were very lucky, we managed to find some great people
and it was a really brilliant original team.

From that point on
millions of people have seen it now so, people come in and they already
know what’s required. And in a sense the hard thing is to say, don’t do
it like you’ve seen it done, do it like you feel from the inside so we
can keep this show fresh. So, some people will come and try to sing it
exactly like the cast album and we go please don’t do this, take another
step back, go away and think about it and sing as you would feel if, if
you’d lost your best friend. 

So it’s a constant reaffirmation of the fact that We Will Rock You really is about freedom and not being locked in a box.

Is it strange watching other people sing and play your parts or are you able to divorce yourself from the experience?

days it’s great. It was strange in the beginning and I had that itch to
get on stage. Funny thing is I still have the itch and occasionally I
can indulge it because I’ll go on at the end of the show and play
“Bohemian Rhapsody.” And I can be hero. It’s a very nice thing—the cast
and band do this incredible job on stage and then I can go on and get
all the applause. So, it’s fantastic for me.

But I love being a
producer, I love standing back and changing little things and watching
the show grow. But, to get down there and get sweaty with the performers
is great.