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Center Stage

Fantasy rebels and Queen rockers hit the Civic Center

6/4/2014

The cast of “We Will Rock You” will perform the popular musical at the Des Moines Civic Center June 10-15. Show times are Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 14, 2 p.m.; and Sunday, June 15, 1 and 6:30 p.m.

The cast of “We Will Rock You” will perform the popular musical at the Des Moines Civic Center June 10-15. Show times are Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 14, 2 p.m.; and Sunday, June 15, 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Imagine the pitch. Out in Hollywood: the band Queen meets the movie “The Matrix,” and the loser ends up being Orwell’s Big Brother. If that sounds like a bit much, well, so does “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Freddie Mercury was nothing if not over the top, and his surviving bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor would never go for an ordinary jukebox musical. It took a decade after Mercury’s death for May and Taylor to find a script they liked, in “We Will Rock You.” The story, by Ben Elton, imagines an “iPlanet” run by “Globalsoft.” Insofar as the corporate hive has any opposition, it’s Oz — “the sexy badass rock’n’roll leader of the Bohemians.”

So says Erika Peck, an actress who knows the characters as well as anyone in the country these days. She’s Oz for this tour, and earlier played the more innocent Scaramouche (there’s “Rhapsody” again) up in Canada. Around the world, “We Will Rock You” has been a smash, and, as Peck points out, “Queen was so theatrical as a band.” Here in the U.S., though, it’s never toured or played Broadway.

Des Moines is lucky to get the musical for a week, and the actress believes, “You will leave more of a Queen fan than when you arrived.” Maybe so, but when you look over the promotional materials, what’s most impressive is what Peck calls “the fantastic female characters.” Rock is a boy’s game, by and large, but in Queen’s case, some combination of Mercury’s gayness (an open secret) and May’s brains (a PhD in astrophysics) resulted in hits that speak for both genders.

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Peck’s favorites include “No One But You,” May’s farewell to Mercury. She feels “honored” to perform, “one of the few moments of stillness in the show.”

t’s just one of the few. Otherwise, Peck says, “we’re pouring out the energy for more than two hours.” The fantasy plot delivers nothing less than a world war, and the show’s title song has been known to bring an entire stadium to its feet. Then there’s “We Are the Champions,” more than just a sing-along. It’s a roar-along. Along the way, keeping you on your toes, the script drops sly references to other rock hits, from Abba to Zappa.

This commitment to the music goes back to May and Taylor. Those two had final approval not just for the story but also for this North American cast. Peck herself had to audition for them, as did the band, an eight-piece ensemble, onstage throughout. With the original players so involved, their spirit carries over to the entire company — and to the audience.

“Nothing brings everyone in the building together,” says Peck, “like when the full cast goes into ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ ”                

Overheard in the Lobby: Actor Micheal Davenport made the international news feed when, following a Playhouse performance of “Boeing, Boeing,” he called his fiancée onstage for a witty public proposal. The answer: yes. CV                                

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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