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15 Years Ago: Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ Musical Debuts

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On May 14, 2002, We Will Rock You, a musical based on the music and theatrics of Queen, made its debut at the Dominion Theatre in London.

Although it was initially derided as “juvenile” and “pathetic” by critics, the general public felt differently, as the show went on to become the longest-running production in the venue’s history. To date, more than 15 million fans have attended performances of the show in 17 different countries.

Set in the year 2,302, We Will Rock You creates a dystopian world in which Earth has been renamed “Planet Mall” and everyone wears the same clothes, watches the same movies and thinks the same thoughts. Individuality is extinct and music itself is banned. A solitary group named the Bohemians lives in the underbelly of this black-and-white world, struggling to restore the free exchange of thought, fashion, and (most of all) live music. To recover instruments and begin playing the music that the world once knew and loved, the Bohemians seek out a brave pioneer who can reclaim the culture that has been lost.

Enter Galileo, a young rebel wants to create his own music and remain an individual in a world that frowns upon that. He is suspected by the Bohemians to be the “dreamer” hero they’ve been searching for. After being arrested by the Killer Queen’s head of police, Khashoggi, falling in love with fellow revolutionist Scaramouche and evading the Killer Queen herself, Galileo is able to unearth Brian May’s guitar and re-electrify the world with music.

We Will Rock You’s creator, Ben Elton, was a stand-up comedian early on. He wrote for the popular sitcoms The Young Ones and Blackadder, as well as several successful novels. His attempt at theater was a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Beautiful Game.

After his first musical, Elton was approached by the surviving members of Queen to construct a musical that revolved entirely around their music. Deciding against telling the story of the band’s singer, Freddie Mercury, Elton chose instead to focus on Queen’s over-the-top performances and complex musicality. Elton, having always injected his writing with social, environmental and political ideas, also include the importance of community, culture and face-to-face social interaction in the work.

Despite critics stating that Mercury’s music “deserved a lush grandiose design, not an expensively trashy video-game setting,” the devoted audiences overshadowed the abrasive reviews and turned We Will Rock You into a worldwide success. Since then, other musicals based on rock music — like Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages and American Idiot — have followed in its successful footsteps. —  Victoria Shaffer

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