No time for losers, `cause we are the champions of the world!"
It may be the ultimate junior high school anthem -- though little did kids imagine at the time that the strutting, bombastic, theatrical Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock group Queen, was, indeed, a proud and flamboyant queen himself. With the explosion of gay culture in the 1980s, and the death of Mercury from AIDS in 1991, people who often mocked Queen as a silly purveyor of arena rock also began to appreciate the group's musical charms ("Bicycle," "We Are The Champions," "Bohemian Rhapsody") and Village People-style campiness.
In a one-man show written and directed by Charles Messina, Paul Goncalves portrays Freddie Mercury awakening from death on Nov. 24, 1991 with a new lease on life. In Mercury: The Afterlife And Times Of A Rock God, the rock singer struggles to make sense of his fate and realizes that fame, fortune and talent aren't enough for true peace of mind. "Beyond the darkness of his fear," reads the press release, "shines a light far brighter than the star he was on earth."
Mercury had an Off-Off-Broadway run last year at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, opening Nov. 24 at 6:48 PM -- the exact time of Mercury's death.) The show then ran Nov. 25-Dec. 7, with a special post performance gathering Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
Now the production has returned to the Meisner for a limited encore engagement,which began previews Feb. 14, and opens Feb. 17, and running every night through March 8. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales ($15) go to the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the Mercury Phoenix Trust. Author Messina's other works include the interactive play series Date Rape (done at NYU) and Roman Candles, adapted from a screenplay Messina had tried to pitch to Robert DeNiro outside the actor's Tribeca apartment. "Nah, not outside my house!" DeNiro yelled, giving Messina and Goncalves (friends since kingergarten) the name of their production company that is sponsoring the piece, NahNotOutsideMyHouse! Productions, Inc.
Goncalves and Messina have been friends since kindergarten. The idea for Mercury came to Messina in 1992 and carried on through other projects until April, when Messina finally finished the piece.
Goncalves told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 20), "The day Freddie Mercury died, someone said I looked like him, which stayed in my mind. So gradually, Charles and I both started to find out more and more about him."
Asked how he approached this recent historical figure, Goncalves said, "For me, every time I do a character, the most important thing is finding the temperament. I follow astrology a little bit; though Mercury was born several years before I was, we were born only three days apart. We're both Virgos and the same type of Virgos. (And by the way, the ruler of Virgo is Mercury!) Also, we have a nervous, fast-talking quickness. He was an Englishman, but he was also born in Zanzibar and grew up in India, and spoke Farsi with his parents. He had a severe overbite, which affected his speech as well. Once I get those external things correct, it helps get me into the inside as well.
"He was never open about his homosexuality," continued Goncalves, "which I thought was very interesting. Yet the way he was dressed was typical of the gay scene of the time. People of his culture knew he was gay, but the fans didn't. After he died, a lot of people were upset that he hadn't come out, and that he didn't say he had AIDS until the day before he died."
Said Goncalves, "All the things I've seen about Mercury focus on the music, career and persona; very little has been discussed about the person. Not only did Charles write a play about Mercury, he captured the humanity. Charles usually writes more about street characters, he has a soft spot for people marginalized by society. So this is a big difference for him."
Asked why the play won't include Queen songs, Goncalves said, "Charles and I agreed that doing a musical about Mercury would take away from what we're trying to do in getting to the core of this person. The ultimate goal is to make a film of Mercury's life, so we're inviting Hollywood producers to see the show. There aren't a lot of films that depict homosexuals in a real sort of way. For example, in Philadelphia, I didn't believe the relationship between Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas. I think the time is right for homosexuals to be depicted with the same truth as heterosexuals are in American films."
For tickets to Mercury: The Afterlife And Times Of A Rock God at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, 164 Eleventh Ave., call (212) 252-6910.
-- By David Lefkowitz