We Will Rock You - Packemin Productions, Parramatta (NSW)
Directed by Wayne Scott Kermond, musical direction by Nicholas Griffin, book and lyrics by Queen & Ben Elton, music by Queen & Ben Elton.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Unapologetically flamboyant in its jukebox setup and unafraid to not take itself too seriously in its premise, We Will Rock You pays tribute to not only Queen’s iconic songs, but also gives countless nods to the gods of rock’n’roll along the way. The storyline of the show (bear with me) is set approximately 300 years in the future in a world that is owned and run by big corporations, where the past of music has died and been forgotten. The youth of the day spend their time glued to their screens as a group of bohemians search for their rhapsody to bring life back into the exchange of music, fashion and free thought, ultimately overthrowing the manic Killer Queen. Sounds like the making of a perfect Queen music video, but how does Packemin translate this to the Riverside Theatre?
With the stage set out like we are about to be played to by Queen themselves, the concert style setting works to give movement to the multitude of cast in the production, with moveable stairs, haze filled entrances and a fixed screen that provides the backdrop to many of the scenes giving extra support to the post-apocalyptic feel of the show. Special mention needs to go to Phil Goodwin’s lighting design, as every decision is made to enhance and compliment the rock’n’roll atmosphere of the music and provide the possibility and suggestion of multiple set pieces.
Director Wayne Scott Kermond has clearly put his enthusiasm of rock into his cast and crew, as the energy from the ensemble and the leads was palpable. The glee of returning to the stage after their Covid-hiatus was printed on every one of the casts’ faces. Now personally, I’m not a fan of directors casting themselves in roles within productions and unfortunately Kermond consolidated this bias. Playing the role of Buddy, Kermond ad-libbed and added in too many political jokes and locally based humour that managed to smash through the fourth wall and take me out of the production. Albeit some jokes landed (a jab at the endless construction of the Paramatta light rail received an early applause) others just fell flat and distracted from the scene on stage.
Taking one of the names from Queen’s iconic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Toby Francis hit all the notes as Galileo Figero. Clearly able to hold his own against the music stylings of Queen and Ben Elton, Francis was pitch perfect in belting out the tunes the show required. Apart from this, his character fell flat and never really managed to stand out against the rest of the cast. As well as some odd blocking in some scenes, it would have been beneficial to see Francis add more life to his character and to stop fiddling with his mic. Props must go to his ability to not break character during some of his cheesier lines from hit songs.
Playing opposite was the ferocious Kelsi Boyden as Scaramouche, with a purple rock chick hairdo and an amazing set of pipes. Boyden soared in her ability to belt out the hit songs and made them her own. Although during Act One, her accent was irreverently difficult to place, a weird mix of cockney, British and Australian did manage to confuse and mumble her character’s lines but was obviously noted at interval as it never wavered during the second act. The gradual raising of Boyden’s mic at the beginning of her songs meant that some of her harmonies in her duets with Francis were lost until the song had gotten well under way, however her professionalism to this issue never threw her off.
As the manically power-obsessed Killer Queen, Debora Krizak never managed to full hold the weight and power that her character required. Sounding and looking more like someone that just stepped off Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Krizak did her best with the space she was given on the cramped stage with her ensemble. Although some songs hit hard, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ for instance, others just did not mesh with her vocal range and were too high pitched and screechy for my liking. Playing opposite her as her second-hand man, Khashoggi, Cameron Shields stole some of Killer Queen’s more dastardly villainy and power. Hitting some brilliantly pitched high notes and revelling in his character’s laugh, Shields was comfortably placed in his role.
Stealing the show as the duet of Brit and Oz, Eamon Moses and Emma Mylott were the standouts of the production. Revelling in their comedic characters and chewing up the scenery in their songs, they bounced off each other perfectly and hit the right notes in their comedic timing. Moses’ presence stayed long after his character’s departure and Mylott’s rendition of ‘No One But You’ was the highlight song of the show in its professionalism and heart.
Musical director Nicholas Griffin clearly managed to work with this as the music the blasted through the speakers of the auditorium was perfect for the style of the production.
Due to the ever-growing and easing of restrictions in our fluctuating Covid-world, there are some necessary sacrifices that needed to be made, such as not all members of the cast singing and songs being pre-recorded. Musical director Nicholas Griffin clearly managed to work with this as the music the blasted through the speakers of the auditorium was perfect for the style of the production. However, it was clear that at times the ensemble relaxed into knowing they didn’t have the pressure of having to hit their harmonies as some mouths failed to move with the lyrics, whereas other harmonies felt too overpowering due to the issues of the sound design.
It was a pleasure to finally be revealed to Griffin’s band that sat above the stage, although I wondered if they should have been seen the whole time, this was after all a rock and roll tribute and the Queen-costumed band could have been the leads of the show.
Audrey Currie’s costume design, while clearly fitting into the world of the show, was at times too overpowering and could have had more simpler touches to allow the ensembles’ faces to fully be shown. As well as this, the opening night terror of multiple rings, bracelets and other costumes failures occurring was clearly seen on the cramped set.
Working with an ensemble that was too congested for the stage (about five less would have allowed for more space) Katie Kermond’s choreography was hit and miss. Standout sequences such as ‘Radio Gaga’ were perfectly carried out for the style and feel of the setting for the show, but with too many cast on stage at any one time, the choreography lacked cleanliness and space to fully add to the musical numbers.
In its essence, We Will Rock You was an entertaining night as a return to theatre and a regular sense of the norm in Paramatta. However, when comparing the show to the standards that Packemin Productions have set for themselves, the production itself didn’t quite hit that bar. When ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was finally played, the audience should have been on their feet and joining in the universal love for the song but were instead content in sitting and listening. Hopefully the season will pick up as more audiences come to support the effort put into staging Queen and Ben Elton’s iconic celebration of rock.