We Will Rock You- South Africa 2023– the musical by Queen and Ben Elton

When and where: May 5 to June 4, 2023 at Artscape, Cape Town
Cast includes: Nicolette Fernandes, Stuart Brown, Londiwe Dhlomo, Craig Urbani, Tiaan Rautenbach, Richard Gau and Danelle Cronje 
Director/choreographer: Nick Winston (UK)
Tickets: Ticketmaster   

We Will Rock You [WWRY], the musical by Queen and Ben Elton is currently on in Cape Town. This sensational production is on at Artscape, until June 5, 2023, with a South African cast and is directed by Nick Winston (UK). WWRY is epic in every way – with visceral character driven performances, brilliant staging, dance, costumes and design (set, sound, light, video- awesome video) and live on-stage band. Sound can be a problem in musicals, with music drowning out dialogue. WWRY South Africa 2023 is a pleasure to experience – with music and story – audible at all times. This new production has been “revisioned”. It was first staged in 2002, on London’s West End]. WWRY delighted me and surprised me. Do not miss WWRY South Africa 2023. It is worth, flying to Cape Town, to see this exhilarating production. I was blown away.

WWRY features 24 Queen songs but goes beyond juke-box musical, showcasing much loved songs. The narrative is set 300 years into a dystopian future. Live music, originality and creativity has been banned. Computer generated music is the norm, with a Big Brother Corporation in control. Ben Elton’s script [book in music theatre parlance] is imbued with encyclopaedia allusions to rock n’ roll and music. For any lover of music, it is a treat to see how he references music and singers (such as Elvis and The Heartbreak Hotel, Nirvana, Amy Winehouse, Carol King). Some critics have dismissed WWRY as “cheesy” but the so called kitsch factor is for me, very much part of the narrative arc of the musical. WWRY is about embracing the nostalgia, feel-good and aspirational sentiments in Queen songs like, We Are The Champions, to rediscover the holy grail of live music and rekindle the essence of rock – in an arena, like Wembley Stadium in London. Ben Elton’s droll asides are delicious.

In the musical, we see two outliers, Galileo and Scaramouche. They join forces with a rebel group, The Bohemians, on a quest to bring back ‘real music’ and concerts. Plot spoiler alert: In the end, they locate Brian May’s guitar- in the ruins of Wembley Stadium. I love how archival footage is dropped in from Queen in concert, at Wembley Stadium.

Video is used brilliantly to conjure up the road trip of the Bohemians. The design is terrific – aesthetically a wow. Computer generated music, is streamed on screens and through devices in a Matrix like universe in WWRY. Ben Elton was inspired by the dystopian sci-fi film, The Matrix [1999], in creating WWRY. In the opening scenes of this production, we see emotionless beings on hover boards, sealed in to an internal world, with VR headsets, programmed to move robot-like. We hear Galileo (Stuart Brown) singing – I want to break free as he ventures out on a journey of retrieval, with Scaramouche (Nicolette Fernandes). Both leads are in fine form and voice. Fernandes nails the North English accent at all times, with no trace of South Africa – remarkable.  

Brown is a recent graduate of LAMTA in Cape Town and Fernandes (a graduate of The Waterfront Theatre School in Cape Town- shortly before the pandemic) and Danielle Cronje as Oz is a graduate of Oakfield College in Pretoria. It is wonderful to see the young talented triple threat artists, giving it their all, after the pandemic shuttered live performance and musical theatre in particular. With high production costs, it wasn’t commercially viable to stage musicals to limited houses, under lockdown regulations.

There is a bit of a mash-up of accents in this production, with South Africanese coming through but I don’t think that it matters. It adds a charming riff to the characters and context that we are in South Africa. There is a reference to loadshedding and having to charge the electric Harley Davidson, before loadshedding kicks in, which brought in peals of laughter from the audience. We are living in our own dystopia in loadshedded South Africa. The up-beat Queen lifts us out of the darkness; just saying.  There are other South African references – watch and see. I loved it.

I was blown away by Londiwe Dhlomo – star of stage and screen. She is dynamite. I was riveted by veteran musical theatre star, Craig Urbani as Khashoggi- the suave, urbane baddie. who is head of the police and carries out the work of the Killer Queen. The character references the Queen song, Khashoggi’s Ship -the billionaire, Adanan Khashoggi and his mammoth private yacht. It is interesting to see that Ben Elton is taking on the role of Khashoggi in London, starting June, 2023, in the revival production of WWRY.

This new production of WWRY, with a South African cast and band and resident creative team, kicked off in October 2023 in Manila, The Philippines and toured Asia and then landed in Joburg at Montecasino’s Teatro. Nick Winston (UK) is the director/choreographer. Bravo to all for bringing us the rousing, timeless music of Queen, in this epic and inspirational production of this hit-musical which is utterly enchanting to experience in South Africa 2023. Do not miss.

We Will Rock You – South Africa 2023: Pic by Christiaan Kotze. Supplied.

✳Featured image: Londiwe Dhlomo and Craig Urbani in We Will Rock You South Africa 2023. Pic by Christiaan Kotze.