A Tale of Two Musicals

Two rocksI often go months — or years — without seeing a musical stage production, but somehow I’ve managed to see two in the last month.

The first was We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen in the same sort of way that Mamma Mia is based on Abba’s music: the songs and lyrics are woven into a storyline that was never intended by the original songwriters, but it’s a lot of fun. Yvan Pedneault makes an adorable Galileo, with his noticeable (but not in a bad way) Quebecois accent, and there’s a real chemistry between he and Erika Peck, who plays Scaramouche. I love Queen music, and the performances, sets and costumes were all great.

The second musical was The Rocky Horror Show, the second time that I’ve seen the stage production in a year, but very different performances. I have a soft spot for RHS, having first seen the movie version in 1979 during my first term at university while under the influence of some, ahem, mind-altering substances. I’ve seen the movie many times since then, including midnight shows at the now-defunct Roxy Theatre in the early 80’s, but didn’t see the stage production (which preceded the movie) until last year, then again last night. The current performance at CanStage was a great interpretation, although it took me a while to get used to a bald Frank ‘n’ Furter (Adam Brazier). Rocky (Gerrad Everard) could have been a bit beefier, although maybe I’m biased by the film actors.

A couple of things struck me about these two productions. First, how old the audiences were: I saw people at both performances who were well into their 60’s, although both RHS and Queen were started in the early 70’s, which would have made these people 30-ish at the time, so maybe not so odd as I first thought.

The second thing that struck me was that We Will Rock You came across to me as the sort of musical where the actors manipulate the audience into getting into the music — breaking character to face the audience start rhythmic hand-clapping, for example — whereas the Rocky Horror Show was just a force of its own. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy We Will Rock You, just that it’s impossible to get too caught up in the story or music when it’s too obvious that you’re being guided into certain moods along the way. I have the same issue with most musicals, which is why I don’t see them too often. Rocky Horror Show has a whole cult of audience participation around it that has built up over the years, and although that was pretty mild at the production last night (no water spritzing or throwing of rice allowed, for example), the ritualistic shouts and lighting of lighters somehow seemed more spontaneous than the artificially-induced audience reaction at We Will Rock You. Maybe because those of us who did shout, or light, or do the time warp, did so because we chose to do so before we even came to the theatre, not because we were guided to do so by the actors.

Somehow, being manipulated by the original playwright and years of tradition is better than being manipulated by the actors currently on stage. And that’s a little weird, too.

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