Ben El­ton’s pas­sion for Queen de­liv­ers a mu­si­cal sen­sa­tion

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - VIC­TO­RIA HANNAFORD

When Ben El­ton steps into the re­hearsal room for the lat­est pro­duc­tion of We Will

Rock You, it’s clear he’s hav­ing a ball. The writer and co­me­dian, who wrote the book for the mu­si­cal around the mu­sic of Queen, is di­rect­ing the lat­est Aus­tralian re­vival, and he’s full of beans when talk­ing about the show that de­buted in Lon­don’s West End in 2002 and ran for 12 years in the city’s Do­min­ion Theatre.

“This is a new We Will Rock You, in as much as they all are – there’s no one way to do this pro­duc­tion. It changes a lit­tle, be­cause rock ’n’ roll changes and the so­cial and comic en­vi­ron­ment that it’s writ­ten in changes,” El­ton says. Among the changes is the ad­di­tion of the Queen clas­sic

Best Friend, and El­ton says the song’s in­clu­sion hints at one of the script up­dates.

“It was not part of the Lon­don run, and we’re putting it into this show for var­i­ous satir­i­cal rea­sons – of a Face­book na­ture,” he says cryp­ti­cally.

The lat­est pro­duc­tion stars Gareth Kee­gan as Galileo, Erin Clare as Scaramouche, Casey Dono­van as Killer Queen, Jaz Flow­ers as Oz and ’80s rocker Brian Man­nix, former front­man of Un­canny X-Men, as Buddy.

As much as El­ton is ex­cited about the new pro­duc­tion, which opens at Bris­bane’s QPAC on July 10, his pas­sion for the mu­si­cal al­ways comes back to one thing – Queen. While Fred­die Mer­cury’s mag­netism and vo­cal vir­tu­os­ity were un­de­ni­able, to El­ton the band was a rock-solid unit.

“Brian (May, guitarist) is a won­der­ful rock star. He walks the walk; he is be­yond tal­ented,” El­ton says.

“The fact Fred­die was such a ge­nius as a front­man and a song­writer some­times clouds our un­der­stand­ing of what a col­lec­tive Queen were. (Bass player) John Dea­con wrote

An­other One Bites the Dust, Brian wrote We Will Rock You and Roger (Tay­lor, drum­mer) wrote A Kind Of Magic. I’d like to have half of what any of them have got.”

Al­though a Brit, El­ton is based in Aus­tralia – he lives in Fre­man­tle, WA, with his wife and their three chil­dren. But he lived in Lon­don when We Will Rock You was un­veiled, and says the show was ini­tially slammed by crit­ics when it opened in May 2002.

“One night in Lon­don, there was a col­lec­tive howl of in­dig­na­tion that Ben El­ton and Queen were do­ing a piece of work to­gether,” he says.

“I’ve never un­der­stood this crit­i­cal ir­ri­ta­tion at what they see as pop­ulist – but, ac­tu­ally, that means pop­u­lar.”

While its 12-year run and sub­se­quent sea­sons around the globe were the ul­ti­mate ri­poste to the crit­i­cal drub­bing, El­ton says the show wasn’t en­gi­neered to be a hit. It came about or­gan­i­cally and slowly built a fol­low­ing through pos­i­tive word of mouth.

“Be­lieve me, if any­one could make a plan to be pop­u­lar, they would sell it on the in­ter­net and they would be worth more than the Panama (money) laun­der­ing ser­vice,” he says. “We fol­lowed our in­stincts with We Will Rock You.”

El­ton be­lieves one of the rea­sons the show has en­dured is be­cause the themes in the book were ever so slightly ahead of their time, and con­tinue to res­onate with con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences.

“The nar­ra­tive con­cept was about the digi­ti­sa­tion of rock mu­sic. Once it’s digi­tised, it will be pos­si­ble to beam it di­rect and no­body will need to go to a live gig any more.

“(It’s) the idea that what es­sen­tially was a com­mu­nal ac­tiv­ity will be­come a pri­vate ac­tiv­ity, so the mu­si­cal is a cel­e­bra­tion of ‘live’.

“Iron­i­cally, over the years, it’s be­come al­most an em­bod­i­ment of its own theme, be­cause ac­tu­ally to hear live mu­sic, that’s rarer and rarer.

“Pubs are clos­ing and if you want to go and see a live gig now, you’ve got to go and see Madonna at a sta­dium. When you go and see it, peo­ple are watch­ing it through their iPhones or they’re watch­ing it on a screen.

“Live mu­sic has be­come al­most a mu­seum piece, which is what the show’s about – and I wrote it 15 years ago.”

While the suc­cess of We Will Rock You could be the last word, El­ton is open to re­ceiv­ing cor­re­spon­dence on the mat­ter.

“We Will Rock You was orig­i­nally dis­missed prin­ci­pally be­cause it was kind of mind­less – that it was a very silly pan­tomime,” he says.

“I do think that it might be nice to one day get a letter from one or two of those crit­ics – some of whom I re­spect – go­ing ‘Hang on, all those jokes about pri­vacy and about digi­ti­sa­tion and about pop mu­sic be­com­ing a pri­vate streamed com­mod­ity, which were so dis­missed in 2002, ac­tu­ally, it all came true’.”


Ben El­ton with some of the cast, which in­cludes ( op­po­site page,

from left) Erin Clare and Jaz Flow­ers, and ( top right) Casey Dono­van. Pic­tures: Chris Pavlich, John Grainger

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