Do you remember first time you heard the music of Beethoven, or stomped and clapped to “We Will Rock You” in a crowd? These shared experiences are so important and the arts are where we meet for such events. There’s a catch phrase I see around Dayton that I appreciate to the fullest, “Culture Creates Community.” This is being beautifully pulled off by the DPO with a series such as “Rockin’ Orchestra”
3 shows have come and gone in this seasons’ series, and the DPO has proven that music lovers of all ages are hungry to experience the soundtracks of their lives in a different way. I call this genre “Rockestra”. (I admit. I stole that word from an old “Wings” song title. It just seems to fit.) I’ve heard these called “jukebox musicals” but I don’t think that phrase captures the almost atom crushing power of what happens in the Schuster during these performances.
The current “Rockin’ Orchestra” season kicked off in Nov. of 2011with special guests, “Three Dog Night: Live with Orchestra”. In February the touring rockestra company “Windborne” brought “The Music of Pink Floyd”. I still have goose bumps from that show.
Last Saturday, “The Music of Queen. A Rock and Symphonic Spectacular”, rolled into town with a touring company from the UK led by guest conductor, Maestro Richard Sidwell. This show, on the season calendar months in advance, was scheduled to run only one performance, 8:00. A sell out occurred quickly and the DPO added a second performance for 3:00 to fill the popular demand.
The company that brought us the “Queen” show this past weekend was comprised of theatrical performers who have been cast in various productions throughout London’s West End including, but not limited to, the musical, “We Will Rock You.”
“We Will Rock You” was written by British comedian and author Ben Elton in collaboration with “Queen” members Brian May and Roger Taylor and opened in London’s West End “Dominion Theatre” in 2002. The story is the classic tale of a misguided prophet as the central character, sent to warn the world about something and there’s doom against a dystopian back drop, all set to a heart pounding soundtrack. This musical was immediately panned by critics and lost the interest of Robert De Niro’s production company, “Tribeca”. That did not stop the show from going on. The musical has not only survived its critics, but continues to play to packed houses around the world and is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year.
Various cast members from this musical comprise a spinoff company specific to the London based show. Unlike other rockestra’s, they only do music as arranged for “We Will Rock You.” On tour they present the musical, without the story or the costumes. Included in this production touring company are 4 vocalists, a 6 piece rock band, (keys, guitars, bass, drums), and the original arranger of “We Will Rock You”, Maestro Richard Sidwell at the helm as conductor.
Including the DPO, over 70 musicians were on the stage for this spectacular; four vocalists, (Jenna Lee James, Rachael Wooding, Sean Jenness & Justin Sargent), lead the audience through 2 acts of the 27 song set list. They more than do Sidwell’s arrangements justice. Vocally stellar, they keep the energy in high gear from the first belted note to the encore. The band was tight and in top form. Impeccable and talented, this ensemble cast really gave every sold out seat it’s money’s worth.
That said, I was disappointed in the “brand” of this show. The arrangements, although worthy of the high praise, were not the experience of the music of “Queen” and a live orchestra that I was ramped up for. I was ready for eerie layered vocals and hypodermic guitars. The energy was there, the talent was there but the edge was not. Knowing Brian May has been loosely involved in the “We Will Rock You” production and reading about his hand picking “American Idol” star Adam Lambert to lead in a newly formed “Queen”, I understood where this vision might have come from.
I felt like amazing guitar players were almost hidden and didn’t surface accept for key moments such as the intro to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Killer Queen” and “We Are the Champions”. Missing from the set list was “Best Friend” which features one of my all time favorite “Queen” guitar licks and vocal harmony tracks. Also missing, the backing vocal harmonies on “Somebody to Love”. This was a missed opportunity to redeem what was missing from the trademark “Queen” sound but was redirected to the big gigantic, (although perfectly delivered), ending. “Queen” is the only band in history to marry opera and rock, not just classical music and rock. As a fan, seeing any such performance that falls short of celebrating that core is not acceptable. Being a “feeler” it’s always more about the experience than the show. I wanted more goose bumps and expected more of an edge, but I respect the amount of hard work and skill that goes into a production like this.
~ The intro piece,”Flash”. (my one goose bump moment)
~ The beautifully arranged and delivered “Who Wants to Live Forever”.
~ A very long haired guitar player head banging on stage with a full orchestra.
~The woodwind section laying down their instruments in their laps as Richard Sidwell turned to conduct the audience in the clapping on “Another One Bites the Dust” and stomping on “We Will Rock You”.
~ People of all ages raising their arms and swaying together during “We Are the Champions”.
~ The audience singing the entire second chorus of “Bohemian Rhapsody” without any vocals from the stage.
The Dayton Philharmonic is definitely right on track with bringing in a different demographic to discover what they do. The very pleasant surprise I got was the sight of elderly members of the crowd getting just as excited and animated during the songs as the younger folks. Community!
In a nutshell:
A heartfelt “2 stomps and a clap” for the touring company! Dayton Philharmonic, You are the champions!