We Will Rock You has already written itself into the musical theatre history books several times over, including recently passing its 4,000th successive performance at London’s Dominion Theatre.
Now the show is about to embark upon its biggest incarnation yet, as a world arena tour, including four days in Sheffield at the end of May.
And talking of May, legendary Queen guitarist Brian May still remembers how the record-breaking celebration of his band’s music got off to the least auspicious of starts.
“We had the worst reviews in years, second only to Les Miserables,” he recounted. But that didn’t last as, suddenly, everything changed for the Ben Elton-penned musical.
“We had two very fortunate things happen soon after we opened: One was the party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s golden jubilee in 2002, where we appeared on top of the palace with the cast singing Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are The Champions.
“The other was appearing on Michael Parkinson’s chat show. With those two bits of television, people were able to see for themselves what was in the show – and it became an avalanche, as people realised what was on offer.”
And word-of-mouth quickly grew to build the show into a smash hit. “The secret of the show’s success is very simple – it’s word of mouth, the strongest force known to man,” said Brian. “No matter what mood people come in with, they come out laughing and smiling and punching the air so they can face the next day with a rock ’n’ roll attitude!”
Right from the start, Brian and Queen colleague Roger Taylor have been intimately involved with We Will Rock You, although he credits Ben Elton – who now directs it – with providing the show’s shape and structure.
Brian said: “The crucial thing was getting Ben in. We had already workshopped an earlier version, which was a history of Queen, but we weren’t comfortable portraying Freddie in a musical.”
Instead, a giant gold statue of him now preserves his memory front of of the Dominion Theatre and, of course, his spirit lives on in the show’s unforgettable music.
Brian has been at the forefront of casting the current arena show. “We still audition every new cast personally, whether in this country or other countries, as well as the band because they’re also vital,” he said.
“The band isn’t separate with this show but a part of the team – they are in every sense part of the central motor that drives the production.”
The good times will rock and roll at the Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, from Thursday May 30 to Sunday June 2.