Brian May: 'The secret of the show's success is very simple - it's word of mouth'
IT didn't please the critics when it first appeared on the West End stage more than a decade ago but since then We Will Rock You has become a musical phenomenon.
And not just in the UK. Millions have seen the show, written by Ben Elton and based on the music of Queen, across Canada, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Russia and Europe.
It will soon be coming to the Capital FM Arena on its first worldwide arena tour.
It envisages a sinister future where the process of globalisation has been completed and rock music has been officially suppressed.
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"We had the worst reviews in years, second only to Les Miserables," says Queen guitarist Brian May of the first run at London's Dominion Theatre.
"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 television chat show.
"People were able to see for themselves what was in the show -- and it became an avalanche, as they realised what was on offer."
He continues: "The secret of the show's success is very simple – it's word of mouth, the strongest force known to man. No matter what mood people come in with, they come out laughing and smiling and punching the air."
But though it became a huge success, he adds, "Nothing is ever taken for granted. It's taken a lot of work inside and outside to maintain it, and we've had a great learning experience from it."
That all started when they embarked on creating a musical in the first place.
"We built our team from scratch, so it was a pioneering adventure for us.
"Though Queen has been successful around the world for our records and tours, we had never felt comfortable in the world of musical theatre – let alone the idea of creating our own musical.
"So it was a big step for us, and it could have easily failed in the first weeks!
"But we put together a team with a lot of rock 'n' roll people."
He credits Ben Elton, who now directs the show and created its story, with providing its shape and structure.
"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 the Dominion Theatre, and his spirit lives on in the show's music.
"Ben came up with a show that isn't about the past but about the future – by having kids looking to what's going to happen to rock 'n' roll in the future, that gave us the key to make a show that is positive and funny, but there's also a bit of meat to it, too.
"Ben's portrayal of the future has a lot of truth in it, as has become apparent, of a world enslaved by the power of marketing and globalisation."
The show has been reworked to suit the larger stages for the arena tour. Says May: "The show in London is obviously not moveable – it's now in its 11th year – so we thought it would be great to put a new cast and team together and take the chance to slightly modify the show and make it more transportable."
The root of the show's popularity, the music, will be unchanged.
"Songs that are big hits, like We Will Rock You, Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are the Champions, become written into people's psyches, and are great triggers to remind them of good times."
We Will Rock You runs at the Capital FM Arena from March 27-30. Tickets are £19.50-£42.50 from the box office, call 0843 373 3000 or go to www.capitalfmarena.com.