The critics hated the Queen musical. We Will Rock You received some of the worst notices a person could imagine from The Guardian to The Mirror, London’s cognoscenti were in particular vitriolic. The Mirror went so far as to claim that Ben Elton should be shot for having written the thing: while The Guardian merely noted that the musical appeared to have been written by a sixth former, and to exist only in order to improbably squeeze out Queen song after Queen song.
Yet We Will Rock You enjoyed massive box office success, and is now more than 10 years old. It runs multiple productions in countries all over the world, and Brian May often comes to play at anniversary shows particular Freddie Mercury?s birthday.
So who?s right ? the critics or the people?
Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that We Will Rock You provides a very interesting example of the difference between the art establishment and the actual consumption of art. In broad and general terms, there has always been a debate about the establishment versus the artist in which the debaters try to understand whether something is good because the critics and the galleries say so; or whether audiences have the final word. Financially, of course, the second is true: though in many cases the opinions of critics are capable of swaying the opinion of specific segments of the audience.
The We Will Rock You box office conundrum can be posed quite simply: how can something universally agreed by critics to be the worst thing ever, make so much cash?
The answer lies in two places: first, a definition of or recognition of the existence of the jukebox musical; and second, a look at Queen themselves.
A jukebox musical exists solely as a vehicle for getting a specific set of songs played to an audience. Given that this is true, the objections of The Guardian?that the musical seems to exist only to squeeze Queen songs onto a stage is a bit like complaining that rain has no right to be wet, or that gravity shouldn’t pull objects back to earth.
Queen themselves were deliberately odd, of course their songs were essentially hard rocking equivalents of the kitchen sink drama so popular in the 70s. Indeed, it can be claimed with some confidence that many Queen songs, and even the concepts of whole Queen albums, are specifically satirising the kitchen sink drama, and the British notion of emotional life.
The songs are, in other words, deliberately absurd and so any musical attempting to put them together on a stage is likely to be pretty weird too.
The question, then, devolves to a much simpler one. Given the acknowledge daftness of Queen and their music, is the musical any good? “Good”, here, is taken to mean “fitting” or an appropriate setting for the songs”.
The answer, obviously, is depends whether you’re a Queen fan or not. But then that answer pre-empts the question. Queen fans clearly like We Will Rock You: and probably don’t care whether anyone else thinks it’s rubbish or not.
Michael Bruno is a theatre critic. He has written many articles on We Will Rock You the Musical as well as We will rock you box office. In this article he is providing us with some valuable information on this musical show.