I needed a drink after "We Will Rock You," the Queen musical that was incoherent when I first saw it in London a decade ago, totally ridiculous when I saw it in Las Vegas in 2004 and that now is, in this somewhat revised 2013 touring version, yet more whacked out than ever. So I wandered into a hotel bar near to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, ordered a Heineken and sat quietly in the far corner, pondering how on earth this thing has been playing in London for more than 10 years, even as no one has dared bring it near Broadway (wise, that). Next thing I know, the entire bar is banging out the beat to the title number, a Queen anthem famous for its rhythmic, tap-tap-clap opening, leading into "Buddy you're a boy make a big noise." Glasses were shaking. Business travelers nursing scotches were head-banging (well, a couple of 'em near me, anyway). Even the bar back, getting into the whole thing, was proffering his cocktail shaker. I don't think I'd ever seen the like.
This scene all was to the credit of the very lively and richly voiced Equity cast, who really nailed, musically speaking, the last 15 minutes of the show, which, if you have never had the dubious pleasure, ends with a rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" recast as a kind of foreplay love-duet between the leading characters of this nonsense, Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). Two things are required here. They have to be able to sing it, which both of these kids can. And you have to believe that these rock-infused young things are about to do the fandango. Lewis and Crum — great name for a vaudeville act, that — make you believe.
Speaking of credit, you've also got to admire the way writer Ben Elton actually went back into this crazy thing, pouring out yet newer and yet more bizarre narrative twists. The dystopian plot still imagines an era wherein global youths all are automatons, under the thumb of something called Globalsoft, a dispenser of cultural pap. (Note to Elton: Microsoft is a tad passe, no?) All that remains to save the world is this group of crazy, punky rebels, hanging around in the ruin of a Hard Rock Cafe (that great bastion of authentic culture), fighting for rock and roll, worshiping at the shrine of Freddie Mercury and craving the holy gates of Graceland. Now, in 2003, this made some sense in that pop music was becoming Britney-ized. But now, when the villains of the piece appear, it is totally confusing as to who is good and who is evil.
Permit me an example.
"Just 'cause he's got those baby blues doesn't make him Justin Bieber," says one of the suspicious rebels when Galileo shows up at the Hard Rock. Ah! Justin Bieber, good.
But then, a moment later: "He looks like a Jonas brother to me." Ah! Jonas Brothers, bad.
Wait. The rebels seem OK with Britney, now. I swear she's switched sides since I last saw this show. Or was this always just random dialogue?
Elton has added up-the-minute references to "American Idol" (bad) Amy Winehouse (good, but she surely would not have enjoyed this apparent cultural association with Bieber), Google, Twitter, Apple (maybe good, maybe bad) and Miley Cyrus (really, really bad).
Sometimes, the characters have distinctly Luddite tendencies ("I want a name," one screams defiantly, "not a user ID"). To the barricades!
Sometimes, they seem to want merely for the online forces to do no evil.
I couldn't track it at all, frankly. But then, no one around cared much. This is a show that actually contains this line of deeply naturalistic dialogue: "We're on a virus on their hard drive and they won't give up until they've dragged us to the trash."
Wow. Au courant or what?
In a conversation with Brian May, the legendary Queen guitarist and songwriter, that nice guy (and deep thinker) argued to me that "We Will Rock You" was the precursor to "Rock of Ages," only it came a bit too soon. He has a point there, but, while stipulating the fun to be had rocking out to Queen, I still say this darn thing just doesn't make sense. Unless you're in bar, maybe, reliving "blood on your face, you big disgrace."
When: Through Sunday
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tickets: $18-$85 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com