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Concert Reviews:
Queen, and fun, reign in "We Will Rock You" musical

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2014

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Subtlety was never exactly Queen's musical calling card.

During its 70s heyday, the British quartet -- still semi-active even after the 1991 death of frontman Freddie Mercury -- was one of rock's most theatrically minded bands at a time bombastic ambition was celebrated in multi-platinum, chart-topping fashion. So it makes sense a musical based on Queen's music would play gleefully over the top, or at least close to it.

In that regard, "We Will Rock You," which runs until April 13 at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, doesn't disappoint. The production -- which sculpts 22 Queen songs into a futuristic Orwellian fantasy that champions individuality, non-conformity and "real" rock 'n' roll -- never whiffs on a potential joke or clever pop culture reference or misses an opportunity for lung-busting vocal melodrama. It's campy and goofy and irreverent (except to Queen) but also self-aware and cohesive, and there's just enough sincerity in its message to lend it a bit of genuine weight.

And, of course, it boasts a body of music so suited to this type of adaptation that it makes for an entertaining two and a half hours even if you completely reject Ben Elton's script and a plotline that, in this developed age of social media, carries more resonance than when "We Will Rock You" opened during 2002 in London.

This traveling company's cast is "We Will Rock You's" best selling point, however. The ensemble deftly plays broad without feeling contrived, from the prototypical evil villainisms of Jaqueline B. Arnold's totalitarian Killer Queen and PJ Griffith's Khashoggi to Ryan Knowles' cheerfully stoned-out rebel leader Buddy Holly and the Crickets (really) and Jared Zirilli's gleefully dim-witted warrior Britney Spears (really). Brian Justin Crum does just what he has to do as the unsuspecting hero Galileo Figaro, but Ruby Lewis, as kindred spirit and, ultimately, love interest Scaramouche is the production's bona fide scene-stealer, with an elastic face and powerhouse voice that provides an early highlight during "Somebody To Love" and goes tonsil to tonsil with Crum on "Under Pressure," "Hammer To Fall" and a nicely understated "You're My Best Friend."

Even the most cynical will find it hard not to at least chuckle over Elton's playful deployment of both classic and notorious song lyrics (from Elvis Presley to Lady Gaga) and up-to-date allusions to the digital and media world -- often at the expense of totems such as "American Idol," iTunes and the Hard Rock Cafe. Crowd participation is encouraged and actually enhances the experience and the handful of dead spots ("Seven Seas of Rhye," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Another One Bites the Dust") go by quickly enough and a more than redeemed by sequences such as the joyful ensemble romp of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

And be advised to avoid the temptation of beating the crowd out of the theater during the curtain call -- at least not if you want to hear "Bohemian Rhapsody."

"We Will Rock You" runs through April 13 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.broadwayindetroit.com for showtimes and ticket information. Queen + Adam Lambert, meanwhile, performs July 12 at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $35-$85. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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