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Musical embraces the spirit of Queen

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 8:48 p.m.
PNC Broadway Across America
A scene from the national touring company of 'We Will Rock You.'
PNC Broadway Across America
A scene from the national touring production of 'We Will Rock You'
PNC Broadway Across America
The cast of 'We Will Rock You' features Brian Justin Crum as Galileo, Ruby Lewis as Scaramouche.
PNC Broadway Across America
A scene from the national touring production of 'We Will Rock You'
PNC Broadway Across America
Cast of PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburgh's 'We Will Rock You.'
PNC Broadway Across America
'We Will Rock You'
Director Ben Elton (center) poses with members of Queen Roger Taylor (left) and Brian Mayduring a news conference at the Raimund theatre in Vienna, on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007, prior to the Austrian debut of the musical 'We Will Rock You.'

Freddie Mercury would have loved “We Will Rock You.” The flamboyant lead singer of Queen, who died in 1991, will be there in spirit when the rock theatrical opens Oct. 29 at the Benedum Center.

“These are Queen's greatest hits set into a story in a theatrical context,” says Rick Hip-Flores, musical director and conductor for the show. Hip-Flores will conduct an eight-piece rock band that will accompany the action onstage.

The ensemble includes two percussionists, three keyboard players, two guitarists and a bass player. It takes a lot of musicians to do justice to the complexity of Queen's songs. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust” are among the 24 in the production.

“ ‘We Will Rock You' is a rock show, but it's not your typical rock show,” Hip-Flores says. “The demands on the chorus are much more than you would find in a rock show. There's much more complex harmonies and four-part harmonies and soprano, alto, tenor and bass. On top of that, the harmonies that Queen uses are not simple major and minor chords. You have to also sort sixth chords and diminished chords and jazz chords. It's your atypical rock show.”

Critics sneered or dismissed Queen during their '70s heyday, but Mercury and Co. were always in on the joke. Hits like “Under Pressure” were delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.

“We Will Rock You” should deliver the same campy humor. The show was created by British comedian and writer Ben Elton, whose credits include television's “Mr. Bean” and the “The Young Ones,” a goofy '80s British sitcom with a rock 'n' roll sensibility and twisted sense of humor.

Keeping true to the band's spirit, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor are musical supervisors to the show. They had input into the casting of the singers, actors and musicians. Brian Justin Crum and Ruby Lewis star.

“We Will Rock You” is now in its 12th year at the Dominion in London's West End and has toured worldwide.

The show is set in a future dystopia, where the planet is controlled by a single omnipotent corporation. Conformity is the law of the land, with citizens wearing the same clothes, watching the same movies and listening to the same music. That music, by the way, ain't rock 'n' roll — instead, it is generated by the corporation's computers. Musical instruments are banned.

But a rebel group, the Bohemians, are intent on overthrowing this oppressive world order.

Hip-Flores, 33, is more a Broadway music fan than a rock fan. But Queen's music effortlessly combines the two musical genres in a way that wasn't always appreciated during the band's career. Queen borrowed gleefully from heavy metal, music hall, disco and cabaret.

Hip-Flores isn't sure “Bohemian Rhapsody” would make a splash if it were to debut today, given the increasingly short attention span of the digital-music age.

“I don't think anybody would write ‘Bohemian Rhapsody' today and have it be a big hit,” he says. “It doesn't have a big hook. It doesn't have your typical verse-chorus.”

William Loeffler is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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