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Its a kind of magic

Rock on Gazza: Galileo (Noel Sullivan) gives the Bohemians something to rock about in this summer's spectacular.

We Will Rock You

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

THE Hippodrome has bagged itself a surefire, crowd-pleasing, smash hit of a show for the summer - a real kind of magic - with this futuristic musical set around the music of Queen.

All right it is a jukebox musical but it is a cut above most of the genre, fine worsted rather than polyester here, and yes Postman Pat probably had a deeper, more sophisticated plot, and yes it did need someone to sub the captions (licence as a noun is with a c and alright is two words by the way- all right? And yes, I know I should get out more) but there is so much raw energy, unbridled enthusiasm and prodigious talent on show that none of that really matters as they say - or at least Queen did.

Press night also had the added bonus of a rare appearance by Brian May - 64 this month by the way - to play the encore of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Queen, like Abba, have a back catalogue of songs which anyone with an interest in music  probably knows, which is why We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia have been so successful. There is a warm feeling of familiarity and a sing along starts in your mind as soon as the band strike up with the first number - and last night’s eight piece band under MD Jim Henson were excellent by the way.

Pop (Ian Reddington - left), Galileo (Noel Sullivan) and Scaramouche Amanda Coutts) learn the secret of the living rock from The Secen Seas of Rye

For older members of the audience there is also the powerful drug of nostalgia. Brian May is five months older than I am so his music is as much part of my life as his. This was part of my youth flashing by in the best part of three hours.

The tale is simple and is a theme writer Ben Elton has used before. In his play Gasping big business has taken over the world’s air supplies; in We Will Rock You big business in the shape of GlobalSoft has taken over the world’s music, controlling minds and the pop charts with a succession of mindless, bland, computer-generated or manufactured pop stars and songs  - much like today in fact.

Simon Cowell, apparently sent from hell to destroy rock and roll, takes a bit of a kicking throughout the show for the sorry state of modern pop - and why not.

Among the brainwashed population on Earth, renamed Planet Mall, GlobalSoft’s control is complete, well almost – apart from one or two throwbacks. There is Galileo (Noel Sullivan) who hears voices and snatches of long lost pop songs, and Scaramouche (Amanda Coutts) who refuses to become one of the Ga Ga girls - that’s radio rather than Lady by the way - who inhabit the planet as mentally cloned females. She dresses differently and knows about . . . things.

Both Sullivan and Coutts have fine, powerful voices and their duet Who Wants to Live Forever was a delight. Coutts also has beautiful timing as she delivers a steady stream of put-downs and one-liners and it seems she can also play guitar. A talented lady.

GlobalSoft is controlled by the Killer Queen with Tiffany Graves belting out the numbers with commendable gusto. This is pure burlesque with a few pantomime scowls and sneers to emphasis she is a baddy, even if her tongue was very much firmly in her cheek. Great fun.

Her enforcer is Khashoggi played by Rhydian Roberts. It was a shock when the Birmingham City University music graduate did not win X-factor (that man Cowell gets in everything) as he certainly had the best voice and presentation the show has managed so far. His voice still stands out but here he is just one superb voice among so many in what is an assured performance.

Like, yeh, man. Classical actor Ian Reddington lets his hair down as the aging hippy Pop, the man they couldn't brainwash

Meanwhile up against the forces of big business are the Bohemians, the rag bag of rebels waiting for a leader to take them along the road to freedom and the promised land of rock and roll.

They are led by Britney (Leon Lopez) and Meat (Jenny Douglas) who give fine performances as the rebel rockers . . .  who do have the slight drawback of not actually knowing what rock and roll actually is or what it sounds like - rebels without a chord so to speak.

Douglas can really belt out a song and in my book anyone dressed in a basque, suspenders and ripped fishnets can do no wrong - or was that Rocky Horror . . . 

We all know that Galileo, or Gazza as Scary Mush calls him, will eventually save the world after being led to the resting place of the of the soul of rock and roll by ageing hippy Pop.

Pop is a bit like a long haired Harold Steptoe with a performance full of humour, and some topical humour at that,  from Ian Reddington.

As I said the plot is tissue paper thin although it does have some nice one liners and double entendres to give laughs between the songs - all 25 of them - and enough of a story line to keep your interest. It also succeeds in giving you an uneasy feeling about the way the commercial pop music industry is heading.

The show might be an apocalyptic warning about the growing power and influence of computers, particularly in music, but that did not stop the designers (Mark Fisher, production, Willie Williams, lighting, Bobby Aitken, sound) using every gigabyte they could find to produce not only some fabulous sets with giant video screens, lasers and a goodly collection from the stadium rock show effects handbook but they also produced  sound loud enough to rattle fillings  - after all this is a rock show. To their, and the Hippodrome's credit though the sound was always clean with no distortion or fuzziness.

Tim Goodchild’s costumes, uniforms for the cloned, Mad Max for the rebels, added to the sets and choreography by Arlene Phillips (she of the too old  . . . for a show presented by Sir Bruce Forsyth) is fast, slick, modern and lively.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining, foot tapping, thigh-slapping, clap-clapping, sing along, wave your arms in the air, standing ovation evening. And with Brian May, or Dr May as he now is,  on guitar as well - what more could you ask for?. To 13-08-11.

Roger Clarke

NOTE: Brian May is not a regular in the show and his appearances are rare so don’t expect him, just enjoy his and Queen’s music. You won’t be disappointed. 

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