SHOW: QUEEN IT’S A KIND OF MAGIC
CAST: GILES TAYLOR, RICHIE BAKER, KYLE THOMPSON, STEVEN DENNETT
PRODUCER: JOHN VAN GRINSVEN SNR
VENUE: THE MANDELA, JOBURG THEATRE UNTIL FEBRUARY 6
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN
In 1984, when I was writing about pop music for The Star Tonight, I was honoured to be asked to spend time with Queen in England prior to their Sun City gigs.
During my week with the band, in which I got to know and interview Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, I had front row seats at two of their concerts, one in Birmingham and the other at a sold-out event at Wembley Arena in London.
They were memorable performances and highlights of my journalistic career and Queen’s music has played an integral part in my life ever since.
In 2009, Showtime Australia brought their Queen Tribute show to Johannesburg and it captured the spirit of the band with strong all-round performances, though it had a different lead singer.
Now, seven years later, Queen resurfaces at The Mandela with a similar show that disappoints in many areas, including a total sound and light onslaught on opening night. The sound, at times, obliterated some of the songs’ lyrics and while Englishman Giles Taylor, as Freddie Mercury, strutted his stuff I was not entirely convinced he inhabited the character. He could have developed a more subtle approach when engaging with his audience and needed to woo them instead of hitting them over the head, every time he got the chance. He went through the motions well enough, but I never felt at any stage that he was in mesmerising Mercury mode.
Very few of today’s singers can emulate the vocal range and power of the real deal and though Taylor certainly tried, for me it didn’t quite tick the boxes. He is blessed with a finally chiselled physique, which had females in the audiences in raptures; is adept on the piano and has all the smart moves, but there was a spark lacking in his vocal delivery.
On drums, Australia’s Kyle Thompson really kicked up a storm with some frenetic drumming patterns, including a manic solo, and he helped keep the Roger Taylor style of musicianship happily alive. He was pure energy flying in all directions.
South African musician Steven Dennett, as a more animated John Deacon, and Australian guitar whiz Richie Baker, as Brian May, both provided strong, tight support throughout.
As to be expected, all the hit numbers were trotted out from the show’s opening sequence. ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ threw such gems as ‘We Are the Champions’, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Under Pressure’ (with a video screen depicting pain and carnage in the world) ‘Fat Bottom Girls’, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘Bicycle Race’ (again with suitable video footage of naked women racing on bicycles). Taylor’s interpretation of ‘Somebody to Love’ (with him at the piano) was impressive.
An eye-catching sequence, which lifted some of the monotony, was on ‘I Want to Break Free’. Using the theatre’s smart technology, a stage rose from the pit depicting a living room in which strode a domesticated Mercury, clad in a tight top, mini skirt and wig, and a feather duster in hand, to send-up a number made famous in one of Queen’s more memorable music videos. The singer then moved in among the audience and caused a few blushes when he draped himself over a chosen few male members.
The audience seemed to love the presentation and, even though they took time to warm to the occasion, they were up on their feet by the end of the evening.
Tribute shows appear to be the norm at The Mandela and fans can expect to see Whitney Huston, Abba, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Elvis on show over the coming months.
* Tickets for Joburg Theatre remain available from www.joburgtheatre.com and 0861 670 670. Bookings can also be done via www.webtickets.co.za, at selected Pick ‘n Pay stores or via the Nedbank App on your Smartphone.