Queen, the rock band of legend and lore, wasn’t exactly looking to have its story told in the Broadway form.
So that’s not what happened with “We Will Rock You,” a musical road tour stopping next Tuesday, Dec. 10 through Sunday, Dec. 15 at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The show re-imagines the music of Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor as a score for a story set in a future in which globalization is complete, individuality is taboo and an alliance of rebel bohemians is just waiting for a rock prophet to lead the way.
“There was this rather serious piece done, a sort of bio of Freddie Mercury, and [May and Taylor] had walked away,” director and book writer Ben Elton says. “They decided they wanted to do more of a comedy, and that led to me. I think they were unaware of my passion for music.”
You can hardly blame them. A standup comedian and writer, the British Elton was more famous for television’s “Mr. Bean,” “Blackadder” and “The Young Ones” than musical theater in London’s West End (although he did co-write the book for “Love Never Dies,” the sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”).
“Roger was very doubtful about doing a musical at all,” Elton recalls from his home in Freemantle, West Australia (his family also keeps a home in East Sussex, England). “But then, when they read what I wanted to do, they loved it immediately. Of course, I didn’t get to John at that time. I met him later. He doesn’t get out much. But Jim Beach [Queen’s manager and the executor of Mercury’s estate] loved it, too.”
So did Robert De Niro. The actor’s production company, Tribeca, had been interested for some time in producing a stage musical using Queen’s music. But it never found the right project until Elton was brought onboard.
“So there I am, working with Roger Taylor, Brian May and Robert De Niro,” Elton says. “I didn’t know [De Niro] was going to take such a great interest. He took his role as producer seriously.”
De Niro’s producing partner at Tribeca, Jane Rosenthal (“Meet the Parents,” “Analyze This” and “Wag the Dog”) explains their involvement: “About 17 years ago, we had approached Queen about ‘The Freddie Mercury Story.’ At that time, they were not interested in pursuing a movie, but were interested in producing a play. Sometime after that, Ben Elton sent [the book for] ‘We Will Rock You’ to Jim Beach, and [that’s where] the legend begins.”
Rosenthal says, as of now, the show is not heading for Broadway and is doing phenomenally well internationally (it’s been staged in 17 countries) and is in its 12th year at the Dominion in London, one of the West End’s largest venues.
“I think, first of all, there’s a wonderful love story at the heart of it,” Rosenthal says. “Two kids are looking to not only have a real friendship and real friends, but they are looking to be individuals. No matter what age, you always hope for love and friendship and to have your unique place in the world. I think that’s sort of the heart of Freddie Mercury, and that is the heart of the story in the play, with all that extraordinary music surrounding it. I think that’s why it hits a universal theme wherever it goes.”
Those hits — “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Are the Champions” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” — are popular all over the globe.
“When it comes down to it, the music has a uniquely universal appeal that goes far beyond the group Queen,” Elton says. “Some don’t know the song they love is a Queen song. And let’s face it: Queen wrote great anthems that bring people to their feet. You can’t play one of the biggest theaters for 11 years in London and just have Queen fans. You can’t make it about Freddie. You can’t make it about Queen. I would say to [the band], ‘In a way, it’s bigger than you are.’ I just wanted a story that best reflected the songs. The best way to do that was a legend.”
IF YOU GO
"We Will Rock You"
When: Dec. 10-15; 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (7 p.m. Sunday); 2 p.m. matinee Saturday; 1 p.m. matinee Sunday
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Contact: 305-949-6722 or ArshtCenter.org.
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