“We Will Rock You,” the Queen-inspired musical, opened Wednesday night at Tel Aviv’s opera house for a two-week run, and while the dystopian jukebox musical has often received dismal reviews over its 20-year history, the Israeli audience packing the theater loved every minute of the two-hour show.
The musical is based on a book by Ben Elton with the songs of the wildly popular British rock band whose storied past has been told many times, including in the 2018 biographical drama “Bohemian Rhapsody,” starring Rami Malek as its one-of-a-kind lead singer, Freddie Mercury.
This show is not that.
It’s a loosely held-together tale about a group of Bohemians — one of the many key ‘Queen’ terms scattered throughout the dialogue — struggling to restore free thought, dress and live music in a futuristic world run by KQ, or Killer Queen, and her henchmen.
The two main characters are Galileo Figaro and Scaramouche — get it? — the male and female leads who escape the clutches of KQ and find the band of Bohemian rebels.
The group is holed up in The Heartbreak Hotel, singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Mercury’s personal ode to Elvis Presley, before all hell breaks loose and Galileo and Scaramouche are on the run once again.
Throughout the show, the ensemble cast regularly breaks out into song and dance, from hits such as “Radio Gaga,” “Somebody to Love,” “Killer Queen” and “Under Pressure,” to “Who Wants to Live Forever,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and plenty of other Queen anthems.
While the dialogue and storyline are hard to follow and not all that engaging, Queen’s songs are a welcome distraction and are performed effectively, particularly by Nicolette Luisa (Scaramouche), Stuart Brown (Galileo) and Danelle Cronj (Oz), one of the lead Bohemians, who can all belt out a fair imitation of Mercury’s impressive vocal range.
Teens may be more amenable to the futuristic storyline; two who joined this reporter at the opening event remarked that the story was more of a young person’s game.
Elton has said he was inspired by “The Matrix,” so that explains that.
But the full audience of mostly older fans at Tel Aviv’s Opera House were wildly enthusiastic for all of it, clapping and singing along whenever requested, and pumping their fists and raising their cellphone flashlights for the “We Will Rock You,” anthem toward the end.
The crowd also appeared to enjoy every touch of humor, including the referral to Elvis as “Pelvis,” the free use of expletives throughout and the cast throwing out local mentions of “Tel Aviv” or “Ofra Haza.”
The show first premiered at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End in May 2002 and was widely panned by critics but loved by audiences, running for over 12 years until May 2014.
It came back for the 2023 summer season at the London Coliseum, before closing last week and traveling to Tel Aviv.
The idea of a musical based on Queen’s songs had been in the works since the mid-1990s, but it was Elton, a comic and writer, who met with band members Brian May and Roger Taylor with the idea of a different kind of storyline melded with the band’s most loved songs.
May was known to sometimes appear onstage in London after the final curtain call to perform “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the true pièce de résistance to this Queen anthem musical.
But not in Tel Aviv. At least, not yet.