It’s community theatre with a capital R. That’s R for Rock and R for Roll. We Will Rock You from Hornsby Musical Society has a cracker opening. Well created dialogue on the sound track scratches and distorts to set the scene. The percussion and the drum barge their way in under the audio, the lighting bathes the audience in hi-uv blue and glaring white while images crackle into life on the discarded TVs over on the left. Onto the stage pile the ensemble, with exciting choreography designed neatly to control space usage by emphasising arms and hands and faces. Every face engaged. And note perfect.
And we are not even at the principal artists yet!
Written by Ben Elton as vehicle for revisiting, and paying homage to, the music of Queen We Will Rock You (2002) is set in a vague future where “real music and individual thought” are anathema to the power of Globalsoft Corp. It’s a favourite with community theatres and schools, mostly because it’s all about the music, the story’s a bit dodgy and ungainly but we are there to rock out not listen reflectively.
Bring on our hero. Josh Brown plays, Galileo, a man who just can’t stop the music in his head. Brown has real leading man charisma from the first with his solo ‘I Want To Break Free’ which is solid gold sold to the audience with widespread arms and a powerful voice and presence. And he needs to be good because his love interest, Scaramouche, is played by an artist with considerable star quality. Jenna Woolley is the real deal. Woolley plays this role with brass and brio. She is seriously cranky pants to his even congeniality. She’s witty and bolshie and hilariously wry with exasperation perfectly placed.
They have a lovely rapport, these pair, and their dialogue is just as enjoyable as their singing. Director Tamer Morris knows how to harness that connection too in her considered and complex staging. During ‘Under Pressure’ she has the couple passing each other and crossing the stage without contact, standing either side, separate, until she brings them slowly together with the down tempo of the ending. It is intelligent and simple storytelling. And their vocal blend in this song is so rich in the lower registers. Delightful to watch and hear.
Power couple would also apply to Abi Smith as Oz and Tim Selby as Brit. Sexy as hell, they are so much fun to watch. Big and bold and expressive. And with great voices. Smith, alone in a spot with stillness behind for ‘No-one But You’ is just electric. Not to mention her stellar vocal work here in a song which has half spoken elements, fractured phrases and killer high notes.
As corporate stooge Commander Khashoggi, Boshko Maksimovic, uses his height well to lord it over the underlings. His partner in crime is Killer Queen played by Annastasia Denton. These pair could have used a bit more exaggerated evil but Maksimovic is ponderously impassionate and Denton can sashay and hip swing to great effect. She can also sing up a storm. ‘Now I’m Here’ with its drop in and out of upbeat ballad and power rock didn’t showcase her voice like ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ in the second act. In that song, low, slow and breathy and emotionally pinpoint to start, Denton brings the strut and the big voice in a bona fide show stopper where her performance really comes into its own. With every red light available and a terrific mix with an extra echo and linger, it’s what we want from this musical.
One other standout is Paul Mepham as Buddy. He’s so funny in a laconic and hippy kinda way. He has the audience well and truly won over early and his ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ in Act Two takes all that good will and dials it up to 11.
The featured dancers do a great job (Fiorella Bamba, Hayley Dwight, Samantha Germain, Cheryl Pieres, Ashley Roberts) and they are always active and moving. Acrobatics in a small stage space requires a great deal of practice and skill. The ensemble too are working hard. Not all of them are dancers yet not one of these performers is short changing their audience. It’s all done at full pelt, full of character and energy. Choreographer Rebecca Savage has created some smart moves for the large cast. I especially appreciated Savage’s designs that enabled her ensemble dancers to be flatfooted yet still active with arms and chest and head while leaving safe room on the stage for the acro of the girls in black.
On that note, the costuming is great too. (Janine Cappellazzo and Beth Cappellazzo) It’s characterful and interesting with detail aplenty in suspenders and mittens and goggles and bloody Tshirts and headscarf … somebody stop me! And my favourite bit … it’s so respectful of body shape and appearance.
Musically, We Will Rock You has excellence and expertise all over it but without being showy or grandiose. Musical Director Matthew Herne allows his band to be foregrounded when required but he takes them to background when an artist needs to stand and belt. There are some lovely orchestrations in this show within Herne’s subtle, skilful guiding of both the orchestra and the singers. In Brown’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ he keeps the note ends low and short during the song so as to harness the audience emotions for that lovely held final note.
The audio mix is a pretty good job on the whole with several displays of distinction. ‘We Will Rock You’ must be tricky to mix with all the table thumping going on but the operator upped his treble and allowed Brown’s tenor to soar. Unfortunately, the mix did swallow the beginning of ‘Somebody To Love’ but it got its tish together by the end to let that lovely high note float with just the right reveb to enhance Woolley’s excellence. (Audio: Loud and Clear)
Oblique, vertically placed LED panels are used to good effect for ambiance. The warm wash across the downstage is a nice aspect of the light rig as are the high vibration purples, violets and blues for the unforgiving city which give way to lighter pastel aquas for the bohemian hangout. Perhaps the red is overused in Act 2 but apart from some hits of meadow green, the palette is selective so it’s never garish. The use of gobos and colour into the auditorium adds to the excitement on stage and excellent use is made of stark whites (Lighting Design: Evan Jones). There is projection on the TVs several times and it is crafted with care so the tech fits seamlessly (Videography: Beth Capellazzo).
The stranger sitting near me turned to his wife after that first number and proclaimed loudly “Now, that’s an opening!” He was right. And it didn’t let up. Hornsby Musical Society’s We Will Rock You is great fun, great music and a show that you have to keep up with.