Ben Elton’s prophetic rock musical We Will Rock You has returned to Australia’s shores 13 years since it first landed. Ahead of Melbourne’s opening night, Elton revealed just how much of a role Melbourne’s Regent Theatre played in creating the show the world is now familiar with.
“It was only when we came here to Australia and this fabulous, beautiful theatre, and Brian (May), Roger (Taylor) and myself spent a month in here in lengthy techs and rehearsals that we really formulated the running order, the songs, the design concept, etcetera that became We Will Rock You,” Elton said.
“Much of what we discovered here in Melbourne, we took back and put into The Dominion bit by bit as we went along. Very much, Melbourne and London joined hands to create We Will Rock You.
“Now we’re back with a new production, a couple of new songs in the show, always growing, always changing, but always at heart the We Will Rock You that has delighted so many people worldwide with its incredible music. I’m really proud and very touched to be here.”
Those theatregoers lucky to see We Will Rock You in 2003 can be prepared for some revisions, including new songs and an updated book. Elton is regularly watching and revising the show, keeping it as relevant and entertaining as possible.
“I don’t have a reminder on my iPhone to revise We Will Rock You next Tuesday, just when I’m rehearsing it and things occur. It’s a bit of a rod from my own back but sometimes it’s really exciting,” he said.
“For the Aussie tour we’ve put in ‘Best Friend’ by John Deacon, which has never been in the show before. I put it in because social media was never an issue when this show was written, but it’s become a major issue, a major part of “what is friendship?”. Is a friend on Facebook a real friend?”
It’s clear Elton enjoys the company of Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor. They’re still heavily involved in all creative decisions of We Will Rock You, ensuring the show is as authentic as possible and respects the late Freddie Mercury.
“Obviously I always have to get it approved by Brian, Roger and John. We have to have a consensus. I’m the fourth member of the band in this respect, which is always lovely when they say that to me,” Elton said.
“’Now I’m Here’ is a Brian May song that he wrote on their first American tour – “a thin moon me in a smoke screen sky” – what a lovely line. So I was talking to Brian about the song and I just suddenly thought it would be a lovely way for the Killer Queen to really rock out. And of course the way Casey delivers it is insane.”
The dystopian satire accurately predicted back in 2002 what would happen to society: a world consumed by technology that has songs transported to us without having to interact with the world. It’s subjective whether or not Elton’s assertion of “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” is reflective of today’s world, but it’s fair to say music certainly isn’t created in the way it once was.
“A couple of years later, the iPod came out and then the iPhone and oh my goodness, it literally happened that quick,” Elton said.
“It’s kinda challenging for the satire in the script, but it’s also challenging for us all socially.
“I’ve got kids and am saying ‘get off your phone’ and I’m worried about a whole generation growing up with curvature of the spine, you know, everybody hunched over their phones.”
For Ben Elton, he’s clearly the proudest of the fact that We Will Rock You brings Rock ‘n’ Roll into theatres, allowing people to experience something he fears isn’t around too much anymore.
“In a world where increasingly, people consume their pop music, their rock music, on an iPhone, or else in a massive stadium watching some dot on a landscape or watching a screen, technology seems to be divorcing us from the live experience,” he said.
“We’re here to bring it back. Live, Rock ‘n’ Roll, musical theatre and we’re very very proud.”
The creative team behind We Will Rock You have been pursuing Rock ‘n’ Roll with the blessings of the Mercury family. Freddie’s family have been involved since day one, and ensured the team knew their show was a hit in their eyes, celebrating what Freddie has given us.
“When we opened the show, critics questioned what Freddie would make of it, saying he would have hated it,” Elton said.
“How extraordinary that they had the pomposity to suggest that they knew better than what Brian and Roger and Freddie’s family would say, because obviously not Brian nor Roger nor John Deacon would do anything that Freddie wouldn’t have wanted.
“After opening night, Freddie’s mum wrote a letter to the company because of the mixed reviews. She said Freddie would have loved this show. It’s set in the future which was where he was always looking to, and it’s a comedy and he never took himself too seriously. And she ended with ‘music is the food of love, and rock on’.”
The promise to keep Rock ‘n’ Roll alive is one Ben Elton takes great pride in. His faith in humanity and comedy is seemingly unwavering as he opens another season of this show full of hope, rebellion and great music.
“I think the show is more relevant than it ever was and even though the dystopian vision has gotten closer to the present, it is something that we can still change, we can still learn, as I think the new generation are,” Elton said.
“My kids aren’t as locked in their phones as I worried they would be, hopefully everyone’s essential humanity will eventually be the most powerful part of what we are.
“Nonetheless, this show appeals to the idea of community, the idea of actually coming out and having a real human, physical experience, and in this case, enjoying Rock ‘n’ Roll as part of a crowd, and that is something that we must never ever lose.”
We Will Rock You is at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from 30 August 2016.