Matt Byrne Media. The Arts Theatre. 7 Jul 2018
The Arts theatre foyer is packed to overflowing on arrival and there is barely an empty seat in the house for Matt Byrne’s South Australian premiere of We Will Rock You. There is an audible buzz of excitement amongst the Queen fans and many are thrilled to finally be seeing the show after previously announced South Australian tours of the professional production were cancelled.
When the lights finally do go down, the restless, non-traditional theatre audience let out whoops and woos as the first chords of the opening number are struck. This crowd is here for the music of Queen and they intend to enjoy it!
And enjoy it they do. They sing and dance along, let out waves of laughter, and rapturous applause. The vibe is one of satisfaction and enjoyment.
This is not, however, a theatrically strong production.
Producer/Director Matt Byrne has spared no expense on this show. It really looks the goods. Sue Winston’s costumes are slick and spectacular, Rodney Bates’ lighting is sharp and professional, and the Audio by Allpro is nicely balanced. The digital creations and video by Flinders University are icing on the cake.
Unfortunately though the singing is average across the board - with a few exceptions - and none of the performers achieve a meaningful connection to the storyline or to their character. In a show which already lacks a strong narrative thread, this leaves it significantly lacking.
The story’s weak premise has a group of outcasts dissenting against a government that has banned musical expression. “Pop” music reigns and the society’s members are, for the most part, willing participants in this sociological, techno-age, construct. Except, that is, for the few rebellious “bohemians”. They believe in freedom of expression and thought, and connect with that via the now ancient and banned musical medium, ‘Rock and Roll’.
Iman Saleh is Galileo Figaro, the ‘dreamer’ of the bohemian rebellion. He performs with boundless energy. Byrne has made a call on Saleh’s ability to hit the right notes in his songs due to sickness, and for this performance he is voiced by musical director Kym Clark during musical numbers. Saleh’s mimed performance is equally energetic, but often way over the top and rarely connects emotionally with the lyric of each song. Similarly, Danielle Greaves – who does have the voice to hit the high notes – has chosen to down play her character Scaramouche, so much so that it comes off as complete disinterest. One found it impossible to believe the two leads fell in love on this stage.
April Stuart and James McCluskey-Garcia are the figureheads of the ruling elite and should have a foreboding presence. Neither is particularly frightening though, and moments of comedy throughout their performance only weaken that presence. Both have significant acting chops, but their characterisations fail to reach their potential.
The pairing of Anthony Butler and Kathryn Driver as Brit and Oz is a strong one, and some of the best moments in the production come from these two. Butler’s character feels spot on for the tone of the show, and Driver sings one of the evening’s most impressive numbers in Noone But You. Another vocal highlight is Scaramouche’s reprise of I Want To Break Free at the top of the show where Greaves is particularly on song.
Byrne has cast himself as Buddy Holly And The Crickets, and delivers a lovely little characterization. His penchant for adlib is well and truly overworked in the second act however. Despite being funny, it sits completely out of context with the show and makes an already long show, even longer.
The use of old school blackouts for set changes is excessive and unnecessary, and adds to a feeling of disjointedness that pervades the whole production. There is a tight ensemble of dancing girls led by Stacey Baldock who drag the numbers along, but choreographer Sarah Williams should have identified the strengths and weaknesses in the ensemble earlier and choreographed more to their abilities.
Kym Clark’s musical direction is tight once the music is underway. The band sounds great and Patrick Maher’s lead guitar solo in We Will Rock You and Bohemian Rhapsody is a highlight.
All that being said, much of the audience appears to well and truly get into the swing of it. If that is the measure of a successful production then this one might just serve as intended.
When/Where: 5 to 14 Jul – Arts Theatre
When/Where: 19 to 28 Jul – Shedley Theatre