By Samantha Wu
Photo Provided by the Company
Queen. From Mike Myers and Dana Carvey singing along and head banging straight into cinematic history, to three iconic notes signifying the most recognizable sports anthem in the world. Where a collaboration with David Bowie results in a song baring one of the most iconic bass lines in music history and, depending on the era you were born in, is either the opening to “Under Pressure” or “Ice Ice Baby”. Freddie Mercury’s charisma, talent, showmanship, and distinctive voice placed him at the top of rock’s leading frontmen, and one taken far too soon. Brian May is a leading astrophysicist who had a hand in the first exploration of Pluto, but is most well known as Queen’s lead guitarist whose virtuosity on his instrument was practically unheard of during Queen’s hay day.
No matter how you’ve come to know the music of Queen, you know that in there lies something legendary and special. It was that ‘something special’ that was captured on stage at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts early this week. The Music of Queen: A Rock and Symphonic Spectacular featured performers from the London West End production of We Will Rock You including Peter Eldridge, Oliver Tompsett, Julie Sark, and Rachael Wooding. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra led by musician and composer Richard Sidwell accompanied a rather impressive in-house band that featured duo lead guitarists Andy G Jones and Aurelien Budynek for a great night of Queen music.
Any form of Queen fan would be hard-pressed not to like this show. Granted, it is not Queen themselves but a celebration of their music; a tribute of sorts to one of the greatest rock bands in the world. Sidwell did fine work in creating the arrangements for the music, allowing the orchestra to weave seamlessly in and out of the rock chords. The singers did a pretty fine job as well – expectedly so as they’ve been performing Queen music in We Will Rock You for a while. As my concert date pointed out, the mannerisms in their performances as well as the order of songs performed was very similar to We Will Rock You.
That aside, the performances had us dancing in our seats. I was particularly impressed with Wooding’s take on “Another One Bites the Dust” and the amount of attitude and power she threw into that song. We were both moved by the inclusion of “These Are the Days of Our Lives”, which was the last music video that Freddie Mercury was able to film before he passed away. Another highlight of the evening was Tompsett taking on “The Show Must Go On”, a personal favorite of mine and a song that Brian May lovingly composed for Mercury. To say that the show consisted of all Queen hits is an understatement as practically all of Queen’s music were hits but the notable favorites were there including “Fat Bottom Girls”, “Under Pressure”, “Killer Queen” and “Somebody to Love”.
The show was around two hours long with an intermission. During the show’s first half, there were a few technical quibbles that I had: I feel that this is a Sony Centre trend but I found the lighting cues to be rather choppy. I also noticed an energetic disconnect between the orchestra and the band, the singers, and the crowd – I know that the orchestra is there to serve accompaniment to the band and maintain a level of professionalism, but I didn’t feel that they cohesive with the rest of the show. The performers were great but I felt that the ladies Wooding and Stark were a bit too ‘90s pop diva polished for my liking in both their stage outfits and in particular Stark’s voice.
All of that aside, it didn’t take long to settle into the flow of the show and get lost into Queen’s music, which we did wholeheartedly singing, clapping, and chair-dancing along. Looking at the crowd, it was actually sad to see how few people were rocking out as much as we were. The predominantly older crowd would nod their head slightly in tune but very few seemed to be giving it their all as we were. During the finale, when Sidwell and the orchestra were given their accolades and taking their bows did the crowd rise for an ovation. It was very interesting noting that the crowd was comprised of mostly orchestra fans.
A show like this needs to save the best for last and indeed they did as all four singers took to the stage and kick off “Bohemian Rhapsody” in true karaoke style. With karaoke in mind, this marks the first time I’ve heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” sung onstage without wanting to take a detour outside. For the encore, there was only one song left, and one song appropriate, to perform – “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions”.