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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Arts & Music

‘We Will Rock You’ musical is love letter for fans of Queen

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Brian Justin Crum likes to describe Queen front man Freddie Mercury as a “peacock.”

Crum, who plays the lead in the touring production of “We Will Rock You,” opening Tuesday at the Straz Center, spent a lot of time watching footage of the late rock star after taking the role of Galileo.

The musical features 24 songs by the iconic British rock band, including “Somebody to Love,” “Killer Queen,” “Under Pressure” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“Everything about Freddie, from his movements to what he wore is just like ‘look at me, look at me’,” Crum said during a call from Toronto. “And I’m definitely a character myself, I mean, I wear hot pink shoes every day. So I’ve taken that, sprinkled in what I learned from watching the greats, and by the end of the show when I’m jumping off the stage and letting people sing with me, you start to see that peacockiness in my character too.”

“We Will Rock You” has been a massive hit in Europe, spawning productions in 17 countries and playing to more than 15 million people. The production on London’s West End wraps up its 12-year run at the end of this month — one of the longest ever at the Dominion Theatre.

The satirical story that propels the show from hit song to hit song was written by British comedian and writer Ben Elton (“Mr. Bean”), who updated jokes in the script with references to Facebook and twerking and added the song “You’re My Best Friend” for the debut of the American tour.

The action takes place in a distant future Earth where musical instruments are outlawed, individuality is stamped out and a global corporation controls everything, including the “gaga,” a stream of uncreative pop music that’s forced on everyone.

A young dreamer named Galileo Figaro (Crum) is a sort of chosen-one prophet of ancient rock music who hears song titles in his head. He teams up with the sassy Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis), and together they lead the struggle against Globalsoft — mostly by rocking out to hits such as “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “We Are The Champions.”

The surviving members of Queen, Brian May and Roger Taylor, served as musical supervisors on the various productions of “We Will Rock You,” hand picking the singers and members of the full rock band that plays during the show.

Working with music as well known as Queen’s comes with expectations and challenges, musical director Nate Patten said.

“This music is so iconic, it’s in the vocabulary of pretty much any rock fan on the planet,” Patten said in a call from Toronto. “People want to be satisfied musically by tunes they’ve heard their whole lives, and we want to be faithful to the spirit of the songs that was intended, but also make the music our own in a way that feels fresh and accessible.

“It is a living, breathing creature on stage, and you’ll feel the spontaneity of it every night, but one factor that never changes is you’re always going to hear really good singing on stage.”

The show also incorporates a lot of crowd participation — something Queen was known for during concerts — from singing along to stomping and clapping during “We Will Rock You.”

One thing “We Will Rock You” audiences will see that Queen audiences never did: “Bohemian Rhapsody” performed live in its entirety. In concerts, the band used a recording during the opera part of the song, but in the musical it’s the live voices of the entire cast.

“That’s a moment to look out for,” Patten said.

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