The Dominion Theatre was the scene of one of the biggest West End openings this year when, on the evening of May 14, We Will Rock You, the musical that uses over 20 of pop supergroup Queen's songs, with a book by Ben Elton, opened to a full house and a galaxy of celebrities that included British cinema's golden couple Emma Thompson and Greg Wise.
Among those watching were Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor, both of whom had appeared at a press conference on the show earlier this year, accompanied by producer Robert De Niro and writer Ben Elton.
Elton was, naturally, also in his seat, but the appearance of the relatively reclusive De Niro brought a touch of heavyweight Hollywood glamor to the evening.
We Will Rock You is set in the future, with a global corporation-style government that only authorizes bland music. A young rebel, with more than a hint of the young, mythical King Arthur, proves his right to lead the youth of the world when he finds the equivalent of the Arthurian sword in the stone, an electric guitar. We Will Rock You promotes rock music as an enormously powerful, liberating, art form and an expression of youth, rebellion and individuality. If the electric guitar is one such icon, then the motorbike is another (Brando used his, in the 1950's film "The Wild Ones" as, in effect, a phallic symbol), and there is a suitably vast motorbike on set.
The bike travels against a backdrop of changing scenery including, in a witty reference to the biggest piece of moving machinery in the West End, a flying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The visual effects, particularly the lighting, are suitably spectacular, which is just as well given the cancellation of several performances to get the technical side of the show right.
However good the special effects, it's the music that makes a musical, and it was clear on the first night that the audience were as keen to remember and celebrate - and have a fun time with - the music of Queen as are the Abba fans who continue to make Mamma Mia! such a money spinner at the Prince Edward.
Most West End theatres have at least one ghost, and at the Dominion last night - especially during the rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that predictably brought the house down, there was a very strong sense that the late Freddie Mercury, the front man, singer and soul of Queen, was watching in the wings. He may be playing air guitar these days rather than the real thing, but the energy that he brought to the composition and playing of Queen's many hits could still be felt last night, and added that touch of tragedy that gives an extra edge to any drama, and any music. We Will Rock You combines both, and though its set in the future, its message - that rock music knocks the socks off pre-packaged pap - is as relevant in our own age of lip-sinc, dancing, PR created "groups" as it is in Elton's imagined future.
-By Paul Webb Theatrenow