“It’s the future world of the Gen Zs,” my 13-year-old quipped, as droid-like characters launched into the first production number featuring a rehashed version of Queen’s popular single Radio Ga Ga.
The song, originally a love letter to radio at a time when it was being taken over by television and the popularity of MTV, has been rewritten as an ode to the world wide web. My son was quick enough to catch the parody to his own generation’s unique circumstance and instantly, he was able to relate as the company sang, “We sit alone and watch your light/ Our only friend/ through teenage nights/ And everything we want to get/ We download from the internet.”
“We Will Rock You,” a touring jukebox musical featuring 24 of Queen’s popular releases and Ben Elton’s libretto, is currently being staged at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater. In last Sunday’s matinee, there was a good number of 12 to 26-year-olds in the audience, bright eyed youth who have not even been conceived the day the legendary band last played together in the summer of ’86. And yet they were stomping their feet, clapping their hands in the air, shouting out lyrics they‘ve only most likely heard from their parents’ playlists. And laughing at most of the quips.
The musical is set in an imagined future where people’s lives are controlled by a powerful software company that dictates the way the populace creates and consumes entertainment. Music is computer-programmed, musical instruments are forbidden, and rock and roll is never introduced. But as in any other time in history, bohemians arise to challenge the norm and, guided by a prophecy, believe in a dreamer who would lead them to, well, “break free.”
The term “bohemian” may sound a bit vintage to the show’s younger audience, but they could very well relate to the need for freedom of self-expression, which is what rock and roll is all about. Many of them may have had the privilege to get lessons from pros on singing or playing the guitar, but many too have likely experimented with making music using only with digital software. And while they may not get the pun behind the name Belvis, the new batch of Eminem fans in this generation sure didn’t miss the jibe about who “the real Slim Shady” is.
Next to Queen’s songs, this ability to resonate with today’s kids, kids who are exposed to the widest range of musical influences because of the internet, is what’s kept the musical constantly popular for what has been a couple of decades since its first run at West End’s Dominion Theater in 2002. And just as well: Because wasn’t it for the youth that Queen wrote this rallying cry anyway? “Buddy you’re a young man, hard man/ Shouting in the street, gonna take on the world someday.”
While it’s stayed true to its promise of catering to the desire of older fans to listen and sing-along to “We Are The Champions,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the musical is also able to cross over generations of audiences by championing the universal, always-relevant theme of freedom and letting one’s unconventional flag fly, and by adding in current pop culture references that younger audiences can relate to. The stage design and visual effects no doubt also appeal to a young crowd who have come to like their world LED-illuminated.
But the best thing about “We Will Rock You The Musical” is how it allows for audiences to sing, stomp, clap, and sway with some of the best songs ever written. Any theater production with that kind of deal will make us leave the theater a little more light-hearted. And in these times, that’s a gift.
[We will Rock You runs at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater until November 20. Though it welcomes younger audiences, guardians must take note that the musical contains some mild adult themes deemed only suitable for ages 10 and above. Parental discretion is advised. Children under five will not be admitted.]