'Sing it!' We Will Rock You returns to Derry~Londonderry
The ever-popular dystopian musical is back with renewed relevance, while still maintaining its core of Queen classics, as star villain Jenny O’Leary explains
When we think of the word ‘iconic’ what comes to mind? Is it the indistinguishable models of Insta-fame, the ‘meme-able’ antics of that YouTuber whatshisface? Or is it something altogether more ineffable? ‘Iconic’ is the Philosopher's Stone of pop culture, harnessing immortality and a unique relevance throughout the eons. And there in the midst of modern drudgery we have Queen –more specifically their music, as the sensation that is We Will Rock You the Musical embarks on its UK and Ireland wide tour.
Cast member and vocal extraordinaire Jenny O’Leary, who plays leading supervillain Killer Queen, discusses Brian May’s mighty axe, bringing soul to the stage and the slight refresh of the musical fans all know and love.
O’Leary sets the scene of Ben Elton’s futuristic reimagining, 'Imagine a world where music and life are driven by the cyber-world, mainstream commercial conformity reigns and Ga Ga Kids watch the same movies, listen to computer-generated music, hold the same thoughts and opinions…' Not too difficult eh? Referencing the series Black Mirror for comparison, she laughs at the tongue-in-cheek renaming of this eerily familiar world as the ‘i-Planet.’
'Essentially, there's clearly a fault in their world not dissimilar to our own, where we now all experience life through our phone. It has massive relevance today,' she adds. 'The show has had a facelift for 2019 with a new cast, set, costumes and director but we’ve kept pretty true to the original script.'
Killer Queen still reigns supreme, ridding the i-Planet of soul and freedom and the Bohemians still fulfil the prophecy to find the ‘mighty axe’ – Brian May’s guitar, we’re told - to fight back and restore great music once again.
'It's a hugely funny script with great powerful musical numbers intertwined. But there are a few non-Queen ballads added to keep it fresh.' With variations including the Beatles' 'Help!', Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man' and Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? - the show nods to other musical maestros of rock and roll.
As the youngest actor ever to play the role of Killer Queen, O’Leary says her involvement in the production was the realisation of a childhood dream, 'My family are massive fans of Queen, so I grew up with their music really. When I was about 15 or 16 my mum took me to see We Will Rock You.
'It was the only musical I properly fan-girled over; waiting at the stage door for cast members' autographs, that level of obsessed,' she added.
That same year O’Leary went on to play Killer Queen in her school’s am-dram production, igniting a life-long love of We Will Rock You. The actor warned her agent to grab any opportunity to audition for same role again.
'My chances seemed unlikely given that I'm only 29 years old. The standard Killer Queen is usually older and ladies with hugely powerful vocal talent but I thought I'd just go for it, even for cover,' she says humbly.
Auditioning in front of a crowd of 20 people including Queen royalty Brian May and Roger Meddows Taylor – ‘so no pressure’ she laughs - O'Leary says scooping the part has been the peak of her career to date.
Having previously played parts in Shrek the Musical and Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, O’Leary acknowledges that these ‘cuter’ roles are a far cry from the iron maiden Killer Queen. 'I'm always the nice one, so this is all new to me. For once when I go on stage I have the bravado to be like 'I own this' you almost take on the mentality of a dictator.'
A self-confessed ‘goofball’, O’Leary is beaming at the opportunity to be an ‘absolute bitch’ and literally drag people around the stage.
'It's a massive power trip,' she says. 'I'm following in the footsteps of the greats like Brenda Edwards and Mazz Murray, so it's important to do the role justice but also to put my spin on it.'
Praising a hands on approach from Brian May, the original guitar hero, O’Leary maintains that the whole experience has been somewhat surreal. 'He’s heavily involved making sure we keep true to the music. He’ll pop his head into rehearsals now and then but he genuinely loves the show.
'We can't keep him away,' she chides while adding that having the likes of May and Jim Beach compliment her performance, has been truly ‘career affirming'.
But despite the backing of some of the greatest names in rock, the most rewarding part for O'Leary is the uproarious audience reaction, 'The audience response is fantastic throughout. There's a universal language with Queen, one of audience participation.
'The fans all know to 'Ehooooooo’ back at 'Galileo', to stomp and clap at 'We Will Rock You' and sway your arms for 'We Are the Champions'… it's just all round great fun.'
Woven together with a lot of love, the musical machinations of May and comedic styling of Ben Elton, what’s not to love?
Break free from the mundanity of your nine to five, prepare to dance on your seat, belt out 80s ballads and strut your stuff at We Will Rock You the Musical. One thing's for sure, this is music that will live forever.
The musical will play at the Millennium Forum, Derry from October 21 to 26. Tickets are now available from the Box Office. Telephone 71 264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.