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Theatre Review: Queen - A Rock and Symphonic Spectacular at Theatre Royal

5 May 18 words: Kevin Stanley

We weren't massively impressed, to be honest...

The promotional material for this show promises an orchestra providing support for a five-piece rock band and four talented vocalists performing the songs of one of Britain's finest ever rock bands; Queen.

It was disappointing then to find that this wasn't quite the case. The four vocalists – two men and two women – were indeed talented, but perhaps only to a level of the type of singer than reaches the finals of the X-Factor.

They were let down badly by the audio quality from the outset, however; their vocals sounded distant, not at the forefront of the audio mix, overpowered by the orchestra. While they clearly had impressive energy and enthusiasm, and even taking into consideration that it is a genuinely thankless task to attempt to emulate Freddie Mercury, their stage presence was lacking.

Songs in the first half included Seven Seas of Rhye, Fat Bottomed Girls and One Vision.

The orchestra was an interesting addition to Queen's songs, several of which really do lend themselves to orchestral support but sadly the rock band, especially the two guitarists, failed to impress. They could clearly play their instruments to a good level. But where truly professional guitarists are completely at ease with their playing, these two performers seemed to be straining, their skills perhaps being fully tested to near breaking point by the sheer intensity of playing Brain May's blistering solos.

Never an easy task to live up to one of the greatest guitar players, they clearly did their best, but with sheet music to play to, they appeared to not be fully acquainted with the music. I assume that rock musicians simply play their instruments, that their ability is simply natural and that they almost play without thinking. Here the guitarists did not appear to be natural in their playing, it appeared forced. They seemed to be good session musicians, brought in for a specific job, short term, as opposed to musicians that had played these songs live countless times. I feel as though I've seen more accomplished guitarists playing in decent cover bands at weddings. Much like the vocalists, they were let down by the audio quality; the guitars lacked power, punch and the crunch of distortion expected, but that is a side issue, they simply seemed to be not quite up to the task.

The second half began better than the first, with a minor improvement in audio quality. Innuendo, followed by Who Wants to Live Forever, Hammer to Fall and It's a Kind of Magic were all impressive and worked very well with orchestra. But from there on in, things went downhill and eventually turned into near farce; the four vocalists encouraging the audience to get up out of their seats, to sing along and dance. This created an almost pantomime feeling to the evening.

It's an odd experience to see the Royal Concert Hall full of people – mostly in their sixties, seventies and even eighties – singing along to Queen, clapping to Radio Ga Ga and the finale of Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You. Of course, the audience may well have been Queen fans when the band was in its pomp.

I can't help but wonder if John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor have seen these shows. Clearly they've given their permission, but would they appreciate these shows? I doubt it. And while I believe that Mercury would have been wholeheartedly supportive of this type of show – although perhaps more of an orchestra supporting the real Queen rather than basically a cover band – I think he'd be far from impressed by this pale imitation.

After Mercury's untimely death in late 1991, the remaining members of Queen tried several times to “replace” their iconic frontman, most notably with Paul Rodgers, Robbie Williams and Adam Lambert. The latter has been the most successful, but none have been able to match both the vocal ability and sheer stage presence of Mercury.

They say that you should never meet your heroes. On this evidence, what they should say is that you should never watch someone trying to impersonate your heroes, because most likely you will be disappointed. Cover bands are rarely as impressive as the band they're attempting to emulate. What they do succeed in doing is make us appreciate the real thing even more.

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