Dear Mr. Elton,
My wife and I have this weekend been to a performance of your 2002 musical 'We Will Rock You'. Nothing new there, you might say, seeing as it's been running for over ten years - I bet you have pretty much a full house every time it plays. However, I write to you after suffering severe mental distress at seeing what has been done to the legacy of such talented musicians as Queen.
To be honest Mr. Elton, I did come into the show with a certain amount of enthusiasm. People I've talked to commended the story and the live performances of the classic rock that Messrs’ Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon have given us. My expectations were heightened when my favourite Queen song 'Innuendo' was used as the overture for the show, but after that, things went drastically downhill.
Where to begin? The characters would be a good place to start. This may sound blunt, but let me tell you that I didn't give a toss about ANYONE in this show. The leads are awful stereotypes made flesh - Scaramouche I felt was a dreadfully sarcastic character, and her 'I-don't-care-about-anything' attitude just didn't sit right with her willingness to go along with such a ridiculous plot (more of that in a minute) or the gormless, wet hero, Galileo. Honest to God Mr. Elton, countless were the times I had to screw my hands up into fists to prevent myself from storming the stage and battering his face to a bloody pulp every time he made some God-awful rock-related pun or kept reciting song lyrics from famous songs for no apparent reason. The Killer Queen character was a timid imitation of Tina Turner's 'Acid Queen'
character from The Who's 'Tommy', and her sidekick Khashoggi appears to have been plucked straight from the crap 1980s gameshow 'Interceptor' - right down to his naff coat and shades combo. The entire group of Bohemians are not given the time to be developed as individuals - even their leader - and to be honest I couldn't really care less when they were subjected to being tortured by Khashoggi early in Act Two. I cared even less that Brit got killed at the climax of Act One; although it was as clear as mud whether he'd been killed or just incapacitated by the shit sticks with light bulbs on the end that Khashoggi's guards carried.
Next up on the list of points to address is the actual plot: honestly Ben, what the fuck is going on here? It's a mess. A bloody mess. The shoe-horning of excellent Queen songs into the plot is PAINFUL AND PREDICTABLE. The entire show followed the template of: Song everyone knows/Awkward dialogue sequence that might as well have came with a massive flashing sign saying 'THE NEXT SONG IS...'/Song everyone knows/Crap dialogue sequence to link songs/Song everyone knows...rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. Going by my estimations, the length of time between the earliest Queen song in the show and the most recent is twenty-four years. TWENTY FOUR YEARS, BEN. These were songs that were never meant to be played together in such a short space of time, i.e. your West End musical. This very fact alone made the story progression clunky at best, and at worst (which was most of the time, to be fair) utterly incomprehensible. The flow of the scenes was interrupted constantly by unnecessary musical interludes - 'No One But You (Only the Good Die Young)' was a mawkish attempt to incorporate some sentiment to the anodyne proceedings, and 'Who Wants to Live Forever' killed any momentum the ending to Act One had (as well as featuring perhaps the easiest escape from being captured in the history of the known universe - honestly, who was guarding Scaramouche and Galileo when they awoke on hospital gurneys? They need shooting...) and 'Those Were The Days of Our Lives' was another attempt at injecting some wistful nostalgia into the show, much akin to the 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' scene in 'Les Miserables', which it singularly failed to match in terms of emotional connection. The whole shebang was accompanied by staging that made an end-of-term school play look professional by comparison. Uninvolving choreography, sterile and cheap looking sets and costumes (were the devices used to drain people’s brains in the ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ section really bicycle helmets with lights on?), and even the backing video visuals - rather than portraying the atmosphere of the dystopian future the musical is set in - appeared to have been pilfered from a crap late 1990s PlayStation game, causing the whole project to immediately feel dated and lazy. I found it hilarious that as part of the plot, shows like 'The X Factor' and 'The Only Way Is Essex' are given as the reason that 'real music' and culture was destroyed. These shows have certainly dumbed down the way we view television and listen to music, yet I fear that musicals such as yours have done the same for the West End - turning a viable art form into a disposable form of trash that can be easily consumed and forgotten about straight away. Shows such as those produced by Lloyd-Webber or Cameron Mackintosh can spark debates, conversations...'We Will Rock You' just made me feel embarrassed to have witnessed it.
This was typified by the sucking up to Queen that was done during the show. Despite the characters meandering through at least 60% of the show not even knowing who the band are, as soon as they are filled in on this via a snippet of the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' music video, they're suddenly thrust upon us as
musical Gods from another universe who have saved us all. While the band's talents are undeniable, to write this into the show just smacks of an egotistical nature and an overbearing sense of self belief (when everyone knows Queen should have called it a day after Freddie passed away and even John Deacon pissed off).
Leading on from the awful, tedious plot are the song choices. With the back catalogue Queen has, you should have been onto a winner with this one, Ben. So how was it possible to balls up a musical so badly as you have here? Songs seemed out of place, badly incorporated and there were even some glaring omissions: given the amount of banging on about 'Bohemian Rhapsody' there is in the show, would it REALLY have hurt to include it in the actual list of songs rather than tacking it onto the end as an afterthought? Where was such dramatic showstoppers as 'The Show Must Go On'? Even something like 'Friends
Will Be Friends' would have worked better than some of the songs included here.
To be honest Ben - while I respect a lot of the output you've had in the past ('Dead Famous' is actually one of my favourite 'whodunnit' murder mysteries I've ever read, and 'Love Never Dies, while it couldn't live up to 'Phantom of the Opera' was actually a really well-done piece of musical theatre) I find it amazing you've been able to get away with 'We Will Rock You' for this long without being seen through. Some people argue that not all West End musicals have to be high-brow, but I bet these are the same people who were lured into seeing 'We Will Rock You' just because it had Queen songs in it. While it features the music of a classic rock band, doesn't mean the story behind it will be cohesive or immersive in the slightest.
After being charged forty quid for the tickets me and my wife had, I genuinely felt I had been mugged and then had the piss taken out of me for two solid hours. I can't fault the performers in the show, who were excellent vocalists and musicians (although the 'acting' isn't exactly going to bring in any awards...) but there were times I literally cringed in my seat at the
shoddy script, the awful jokes and generally felt sorry for everyone concerned. Really, if this is the standard of show that you deem acceptable, then we really are in a sorry state of affairs.
It's safe to say we've been put off seeing any more musicals based on bands thanks to 'We Will Rock You'. Overall Ben, I reckon your show ought to be called 'We Will Fleece You' - that's certainly how I felt after exiting the theatre as soon as possible after the final curtain fell. Poor Freddie must be turning in his grave each and every time his music is defiled in this manner. Shame on you.
A bitterly disappointed fan of West End musicals