Landon Scholar & Myranda Thomas. photo: AAC
We Will Rock You
Music & lyrics by Queen
Story & script by Ben Elton
Original vocal score by Brian May, Roger Taylor & Mike Dixon
Director, Producer, Editor Remy Sisk
Director of Filming, Assistant Editor Charlie Meredith
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Forget that there ever was COVID 19, and strip away director Remy Sisk’s lengthy curtain speech explaining the circumstances under which this video production was executed and it is not difficult to imagine that this mash-up of digital imaging technologies is actually an inspired concept for presenting this sci-fi musical about the struggle of the individual against totalitarianism.
We Will Rock You is hardly original. The story is a collision of The Fifth Element, The Matrix, and so many others, and the score is, of course, clever use of iconic songs from the catalog of the rock band Queen, which is, not surprisingly, its strength.
But Sisk and his team use Zoom to record individual performances, juggling the separate frames around the full screen in a dizzying fashion and alternating soundstage footage of most of the musical numbers featuring 2-4 performers. As the plot involves a dystopian future in which Earth’s (now called iPlanet) inhabitants are trapped in consumer conformity in which individualism has been all but erased, the Zoom frame here becomes an effective design tool in which to reinforce the central conceit, and the constantly moving camera in the studio numbers illustrates the freedom of rock and roll.
If that sounds trite, well…it is. Yet the choice of material is canny, a high-energy contemporary musical that not only fits the moment of a pandemic but the ongoing internal struggle of the American character to blindly follow the easiest path. Both are defining characteristics of 2020, but more importantly, the production was forced to adapt as safety protocols followed the ever-increasing ranks of the vaccinated, abandoning the Zoom accounts for real locations and group scenes not even imagined when the work began.
The result is a version that finds greater relevance and meaning through the manner of its own creation, a show that is a snapshot of this moment of transition in society. That may mean it risks feeling dated in a few months, but real art thrives in such urgent circumstances, and the energy here is palpable.
It goes without saying that we miss the immediacy of being in the same space with William Nickels as the gifted hero Galileo Figaro, Lauren McCombs as his partner Scaramouche, Myranda Thomas, and Landon Scholar, all top of the ranks of the Louisville musical theatre talent pool, and Tamika Tyan’s evil Killer Queen would likely knock us out of our seats with her powerful voice. Jason Cooper is great as Commander Khashoggi, their top henchman, and Adam Byrd is stellar as the leader of the Bohemians, the secret, underground guardians of the sacred texts. These are random words and phrases that are a lexicon of rock and roll, bands, slang, and Queen songs.
The whole thing is silly and ridiculous in all of the best ways; again a matter of excellent timing in dropping a show at the exact moment that audiences may be hungry for style and energy over substance. A moment for the serious-minded virtual offerings to date to step aside for the opportunity to ROCK.
As I noted before, the editing by Sisk and Charlie Meredith is the most pronounced design element. Jaclyn Lyons’ costumes are right on target, evocative of so many periods in rock and roll history that one wants to watch a second time to catalog them. Corie Caudill’s abstract sets serve the frenetic visual style well, and Jesse Alford’s lighting design keeps up with all the movement, although I don’t believe that even the city’s top lighting person can take credit for the well-placed sunset at the end.
Sisk and Meredith are practitioners of live theatre, so their adroit embrace of digital editing is impressive, even if they, like any kid in the candy store, overdo it. I would have liked things to slow down at times so we could connect a bit more with this talented and hard-working cast. Not that there’s a lot of subtlety in this show, but Lauren McCombs has the luck of the lines and doesn’t miss a single moment of Scaramouche’s dry wit.
Yet, it must also be said that they push the envelope on bending and shaping the digital imaging to their purpose to a far greater degree than any other local company has in the turn to virtual production, and that degree of commitment to their own innovation is arguably what elevates their production beyond a kitschy sci-fi jukebox musical.
In the end, however slick and pumped up with a cyberpunk aesthetic, We Will Rock You is an irresistible twist on the time-tested idea that rock and roll is the most profound cultural expression of rebellion against society. Like most jukebox musicals it is a choice to cash in on a goldmine catalog so rock stars can retire in wealth and conglomerates can improve their bottom line, but on the front lines are always a bunch of artists excited to work again; in this case that is local talent and a company dedicated to fundraising for pediatric cancer care. It’s loads of fun as long as you don’t examine its origins too closely and let yourself go with the music and the cause.
Featuring Shelby Brown, Adam Byrd, Olivia Duff, Corie Caudill, Jason Cooper, Hannah Lechleiter, Lauren McCombs, Julie Riehm McGuffey, Charlie Meredith, William Nickles, Aaron Roitman, Landon Scholar, Remy Sisk, Hannah Thomas, Myranda Thomas, & Tamika Tyan
We Will Rock You
Available On Demand May 21 -23, 2021
For tickets click HERE
Acting Against Cancer
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.