So I went to see We Will Rock You in Toronto last night–this would be the musical based on Queen songs, if you’re out of the loop. I honestly had no real idea what to expect, other than, hey, Queen is pretty much awesome and I absolutely love musicals, so where can you go wrong?
Oh, how I underestimated the possibilities for awesomeness here. This show took all of my favourite things in entertainment–big, overwrought emotions, quest stories, self-aware humour, singing and dancing, dystopia fiction, an overall non-conformist, anti-corporate social awareness/activist message AND a great feminist lead female character–and put them on a stage. With Queen songs.
The show is primarily based around critiquing cookie-cutter, soulless corporate creation of entertainment, how that has implications for our actual humanity, and the kinds of tools used by that single global corporation in order to achieve control, ranging from simply preventing people from knowing any better to actual violence. Yes, I’m an enormous geek/cheeseball, but I have to say that the scene involving the “bohemian” (yes, duh) rebels being brain zapped out of their non-conformity and daring to hope for a better world hit me hard, especially given the fact that many of them were playing out their non-conformity with gender bending costumes etc (they were modeling their clothes on extremely limited knowledge of what the old “rockers” looked like), as did the one that showed them all, post-zapping, sitting in a bar drinking themselves to death and no longer able to hope for anything. Just out of the way, defeated by the big corporate machine. Except literally.
Scaramouche–the main female lead–is my new hero. She was funny and sarcastic, and though the show makes Galileo (Figaro…again, heh) out as the “chosen one”, she never comes off as just his sidekick. She comes off as the one who attaches practicality to his dreams. She’s the computer whiz, he’s kind of all over the place. She constantly questions him when he pulls bullshit gender cards on him–replying to “I can’t have my ‘chick’ do my work for me” with “I’m sorry, at exactly what point in this relationship did you take the dickhead pill?” I had this moment of “Oh my God, these people actually understand this dynamic” when Galileo says something along the lines of “Why do you always have to play this bullshit feminist self-assertion stuff? I’m trying to SAVE THE WORLD here!” and she calls him out on his craziness and essentially says “And I’m not? I’d just like to do it and not be treated like a dog while it happens”. At which point my brain exploded.
The whole damn thing is about hope, energy, individuality over market-defined acceptability, corporate (rather than government) corruption and control, and the general brainwashing of the entire human population. I was thinking I would love to send every proto-activist teenager I’ve ever met to this show, because it has such a strong message, delivered in a package of absolute rockingness. I was thinking, while watching it, that it just wouldn’t be possible to watch this show without feeling invigorated, hating the machine, getting that old hippie hope restarted (or whatever)…
…of course, that’s where I was being naive, because as I was walking out of the theatre, I overheard the following conversation:
Guy: Yeah, that might have been fine, but they totally ruined classic Queen by having a girl sing so much of it. I mean, Freddy Mercury was gay, but he wasn’t THAT gay.
Girl: Freddy Mercury was gay? I didn’t know that.
Guy: Oh yeah, he was a totally flaming homo.
At which point I walked the hell away, though the seats to the other aisle, lest all remaining remnants of the awesomeness quotient be so quickly eliminated from my brain by the world continuing to completely suck. I don’t think it would have been possible to completely miss the point of that show any more effectively. From the space of a four-sentence conversation, I’ve decided I completely understand this guy’s personality and what he was thinking–he listens to Queen enough to go to this show and know Freddy’s name because it’s the “in” thing to do and it’s cool old-school classic rock. But he’s still a homophobic misogynistic frat boy whose brain has this big barrier to actual coolness right up at the front of it. So he watched this whole show thinking “Yeah, yeah, whatever…music, hope, old hippie…uh huh…that’s a girl. Girls can’t play guitar” and probably constructing that “Freddy Mercury wasn’t that gay” line in his head and thinking he was really freaking clever (because also…is there a scale somewhere, ranging from +25 masculine prowess super power points to -25 feminine weakness flibbertijibbit status, onto which gayness fits into some position? And at exactly what point on that scale does one become unable to play a guitar and rock? Just slightly to the “ew gross” side of Freddy Mercury, or could you be quite a bit more of a “flaming homo” than that before the estrogen got in the way of your ability to do anything?).
The show itself dealt with the Freddy issue pretty well, with a really powerful version of “Only the Good Die Young” in a context that reminds you that, yep, the man died essentially because he couldn’t fit the “norm”. I occasionally get these experiences where suddenly a song I’ve known forever will strike me in some completely new way and I’ll actually hear a lyric that has always just gone by with the beat up to that point, and then suddenly I’ll be regularly overwhelmed by the awesomeness of that lyric–this happened a few years ago with “Under Pressure” and that feeling was reinforced with the way they used that song in this show. The line in question:
It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about
Watching some good friends scream “Let me out”
That guy? Broke my bubble and brought back in exactly that terror of knowing. I can’t think of any better way to describe it.
[because I must say it: the one thing that is not entirely awesome about this show is the main villain, “Killer Queen”. I can see why they would choose that as a villain, because the song works with it, but first of all, her character just didn’t seem to quite fit the type of evil force they were getting at with the Globalsoft corporation and I seriously wonder if, ironically, they used her role as a bit of a dumping ground for some of the songs they knew had to be included for the drone-pleasing but that didn’t fit within the script (like “Fat-Bottomed Girls”) which made her into something of a mishmash character. Worse, though, there was this black female sexuality as evil–too powerful, too big, too selfish–that pervaded all of her scenes…Literally every time she was on the stage I was watching and desperately trying to find a way to not hate that, hoping for some redeeming thematic feature that would appear to let me explain how this actually *did* fit the overall awesomeness, and then eventually just trying to rewrite the script in my head to skip that part. There were other women of colour in the Bohemian chorus who were sexy and sexual and not invoking this stereotype, and I noticed in the program that one of her understudies is a white woman, which made me wonder how the show would play with her in that role–because honestly, the specific character dynamic that we saw could not be played with a white woman, regardless of the quality of the acting. It just wouldn’t be there. And that bugs me rather a lot, which sucks, because of the aforementioned awesome rockingness and because the woman who played her had a freaking amazing voice, especially in her low register–her doing “Another One Bites the Dust” was unbelievable, and also free of the crap hypersexualized evil elements of her character.]