PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With We Will Rock You Creator Ben Elton; Queen Musical Sets Out to Conquer U.S.

By Adam Hetrick
03 Nov 2013

Jared Zirilli and Erica Peck
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Since the premiere 12 years ago, you have continued to update the script to keep up with pop culture references. You also tailor it to various audiences around the world. That has to keep you rather busy and actively attached to the show.

BE: It's been a hard taskmaster or mistress. Of course, 12 years ago there were no cell phones, there was no twerking, there was no Miley Cyrus, so if you've got a show that is about technology and pop music, then the changing references have to play a role. It's been a much bigger part of my life than I ever imagined. It's not just the references, the iPhone gag, the twerking, which will probably be dead by the time we get out there, but you know, you've gotta be careful. You don't just want to be a knee-jerk and put something in for the heck of it.

Beyond your work as the book writer, you continue to return to We Will Rock You as the director. You worked with the American tour cast rather than having an associate re-stage your work for you.

BE: Brian and Roger and I take so much trouble in rehearsing and casting the company, because there's no one way to sing a rock song. With some musicals it's set, and that's fine, I'm not dissing that. But with comedy and rock and roll, it's about finding the individual performance, and no two Galileos are the same, because they have to find their own rock. They certainly can't sing it like Freddie, which is cool. Freddie couldn't sing it like them. We want everyone to be their own champion. Really, it's not so much bothering about the topical gags, which is easy, but what's tough is finding the soul in each new company. We feel we need to do that, we need to be there, and we understand what we want in a new company. That's why we feel we could never give it away to a kind of team who are sent away to reproduce it. It can't be reproduced because every night it's a new show.

You've worked with so many different casts throughout the life of We Will Rock You. There has to be a lot of inspiration in the rehearsal room. What's the dynamic like?

BE: Absolutely! We're not looking to come in and say, "This is what we want you to do." We're looking to say, "What have you got? Who are you? How're you going to sing 'Champions'? Where's your tragedy? Where's your triumph?" We say, "What have you got to offer us? We'll work with you to find your hero, your champion, and then you can make the audience into champions, too."

What was your working relationship with Brian May and Roger Taylor like?

BE: It's been great. I've been fortunate over the years. I've written an original musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber and had a wonderful relationship with him. But rock and roll will always be my passion. Of course, Queen exemplifies that, par excellence. Brian, Roger and I have really become brothers - many hours, many planes, many auditions together agonizing over who's got the passion and the heart. And we're still close friends, and it's been a very important emotional and personal part of life. Being a part of all this, learning about Freddie... Freddie's family are very close to the show. His mother loved the show, as did his sister and family, and I've become a part of the Queen family. I say that because I'm allowed to say it. They told me that and made it very clear. I'm flattered to share in it and also to hear all the great stories – most of which I can't tell you!

There's been talk of a future Broadway life for We Will Rock You following the tour. Is that an ultimate dream for this production?

BE: Oh my goodness, I don't know about ultimate dreams. You must never have an ultimate dream, or where do you go the following night? But wouldn't that be amazing? Whilst to be on Broadway – I studied drama at university, so, of course, to be on Broadway is a grail – but isn't it also a grail to hit the road? The road in America - that's what rock and roll is about – the road is rock. Freddie, Brian and Queen used to be on the road in a Ford, every night a different gig. So, the idea that We Will Rock You is on tour in the U.S., that the gang is going to be getting on a bus and rocking that town out then moving out, it's kind of the ultimate rock dream, isn't it? So much as I can't wait to get to Broadway, I have to say it's equally wonderful to be on a U.S. tour.

Click here to read's coverage of We Will Rock You on tour.


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Ruby Lewis and Brian Justin Crum
Photo by Paul Kolnik