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Opinion: Imperfectly rocking ‘We Will Rock You’ ends run

November 7, 2013
By SARAH REED - For The Weekender , The Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH - The recent invasion of rebel rockers and their assailants upon Pittsburgh's Benedum Center forced decibel levels through the roof when the touring production of "We Will Rock You," a musical mostly comprised of music written by the members of the rock band Queen, performed a short gig at the theater.

The musical, which concluded its stay Nov. 3, generously pumped gallons of adrenaline into its audiences but proved stingy in its delivery of a thoroughly enjoyable and cohesive theatrical production.

In a futuristic age, in a land known as the iPlanet, where everything from clothing to music is digitalized and downloadable, a tyrannical business called Globalsoft runs the territory that was formerly America. As Globalsoft seeks to destroy all forms of live music, only allowing the computerized sort that the company itself produces to exist, the corporation's ruler the Killer Queen is alerted to two non-conformist teenagers who might be different from the rest of society, still independently minded people - a young man called Galileo, who is constantly bothered by the flow of unfamiliar song lyrics that cram his mind; and a nameless young woman who Galileo calls Scaramouche, who refuses to obey the society's rules pertaining to dress and decorum. When the two youngsters make the acquaintances of two members of a secluded group of rock-music lovers, known as the Bohemians, who live in an underground community they call the Hard Rock Cafe, a kinship is established as the two daring youth help the Bohemians revive the spirit of rock in the ever-present shadow of the Killer Queen and her minions.

Fulfilling the demands of the musical's strenuous rock-based score with a voice of pleasingly rich quality and versatility, Brian Justin Crum's Galileo, though endearing in his clean-cut appearance and kindly demeanor, did little to heighten the production's credibility. Crum's abundant recitations of popular song lyrics, many of which were not of the rock 'n' roll or rock genres, such as Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again," became stale very quickly and the exaggerated style with which he spoke the large compendium of libretto - and the lack of a well-rounded characterization - did as well.

Contrasting Crum's relatively good-natured presence, Ruby Lewis as Scaramouche lent an edgy air to the production. Although portraying a stereotypically awkward and sassy teenager, with dark modes of self-expression, Lewis' Scaramouche proved engaging. Though Lewis' Scaramouche also lacked a substantial amount of depth, the moments in which she exerted a clear-headed intelligence and bravery over the sometimes immaturely chauvinistic Galileo were among the production's most delightful offerings. The small-statured Lewis additionally provided the musical with explosively soulful vocals, making a suitable singing partner to Crum and matching the intensity of the wild, adrenaline-saturated score.

Much of "We Will Rock You's" early moments establish the cruel actions of Globalsoft and its power over the citizens of the iPlanet. During this time, in which the audience is immersed in the dystopian world's laws and the hierarchy's wicked pursuit of Galileo and Scaramouche, signs of an engaging or meaningful plot were few, due to the very trite ways in which the characters spoke of Galileo and Scaramouche's offenses and to the trivial pursuits and general cartoonish behaviors and dialogues of the brainwashed members of that society.

Amidst the boringness and offsetting oddities of the Globalsoft world, the society's leader known as the Killer Queen, a half human-half video game character who downloaded herself into being, portrayed by Jacqueline B. Arnold, added a sufficient amount of spark. Arnold's imperiously wicked manner and thunderously powerful vocal performance of such Queen songs as "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Another One Bites the Dust" endow the production with an electric force that proved mostly satisfying.

Once audiences journeyed with the musical's heroic duo to the barren part of the iPlanet known as the Wasteland and into the community of the Bohemians, a transformative aura overtook the plot. Amongst the Bohemians, a genuine sense of effervescence, realness and generous amounts of comedy abounded. Standing out as the rock-loving clan's two most endearing and entertaining members, Jared Zirilli, named after pop star Britney Spears, brought a highly amusing and kindly spirit to the stage. Ryan Knowles as Buddy, a name paying homage to rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly and his band the Crickets, exuded a totally free-spirited and zanily humorous nature, especially as he expounded upon the wondrously mysterious treasures he owns, such as a video tape, or as his Buddy would pronounce it, "vidayo tappee."

Uniquely designed lighting and the use of computer-generated images created an unordinary world full of danger and intrigue, while the production's costumes and wigs evoked both the otherworldliness of the Globalsoft society and of the 1980s rocker-inspired attire of the Bohemians, many of whom were clothed as famous 1980s music stars, such as Michael Jackson and Boy George.

Due to the somewhat lagging and mishandled unserious moments within the plot, especially, and the inconsistently smooth transitions into songs, "We Will Rock You" didn't emerge as the champion of musical theater. However, its very strong message warning of the enormous influence of social media and technology on society holds pertinent value for today's audiences, and recent pop cultural events mentioned in the musical, such as Miley Cyrus' recent twerking episode, may help to make the material more relatable to audiences. Most importantly the musical did just as its title states. The amplification of the production's live band that sometimes appeared onstage showed no mercy on the eardrums, and the boundless energy of the cast made certain that audiences were rocked.

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