Review: 'We Will Rock You' at Orpheum

ROHAN PRESTON | Updated 11/21/2013

Jukebox musical not worthy of Queen.

Ruby Lewis and Brian Justin Crum in “We Will Rock You.”

“We Will Rock You,” the musical built around the music of the band Queen, is vapid and soulless. The show, which opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre, has a capable cast of buff singer/actors, but even they cannot redeem what is a loud but ultimately lame effort.

The major failing of “We Will Rock You” begins at conception. Queen’s songs themselves are theatrical and easy to nod along to. But the story, crafted by Ben Elton, is thin and poorly written. The book does not advance the music, and vice versa. Instead, it seems, the narrative is crafted simply to get to numbers such as “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and the sports-anthem title track. It probably would have been a more honest undertaking if the creative team admitted its purpose upfront, gathered some fabulous singers and created a Queen tribute band.

“We Will Rock You” is set in an Orwellian future when the corporation GlobalSoft controls all thoughts, music is pre-programmed and people are unimaginative automatons. But there is a dreamer out there, a clean-cut savior named Galileo (Brian Justin Crum). He hears ancient rock, pop and rap lyrics in his sleep. The melodic fragments call to him as emblems of individuality and freedom. He meets up with other rebels, including love interest Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). All are persecuted by the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) and her henchman Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith).

The cast delivers with as much presence as can be mustered. Crum looks like a J. Crew model but has a feral edge, vocally. Lewis sounds a little inexperienced in her songs but has major attitude.

Arnold sings “Another One Bites the Dust” with the same phrasing as Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen. And that’s part of the problem with this production. The songs are not rearranged to serve the show, which has references to twerking, tweeting and the Jonas Brothers (are they still relevant?).

“We Will Rock You” also taps unoriginal imagery. The opening scene, in which automatons move in lockstep, suggests something ripped off from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” The rebel colony, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, looks like a leftover scene from “Rent.”

A fan of Queen is glad to hear the songs again, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is done as the encore. But the British band deserves better than this.

We Will Rock You

When: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun.

Tickets: $49-$109, 1-800-982-2787 or www.hennepintheatretrust.org.