An Ironic Night at the Rock Opera

We Will Rock You performance featuring Brian May and Roger Taylor, Toronto, 1 August 2007.

News of the world: The royal visit

Roger Taylor and Brian May

I’d been signed up to the email list since hearing that We Will Rock You, the musical built around the music of Queen, was starting a run in Toronto, but this 17 July message was truly a special one:

On the regularly scheduled Wednesday, August 1st performance, Brian May and Roger Taylor will join the entire company of WE WILL ROCK YOU in Toronto at the Canon Theatre and perform live in the encore of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

About We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You is a jukebox musical, based on the songs of Queen and named after their hit single of the same name. The musical was written by English comedian and author Ben Elton in collaboration with Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor. The story takes place in a tongue-in-cheek dystopian future where originality and individuality are shunned, and a lone “Dreamer” appears who can fulfill a prophecy that will enable the return of rock ‘n roll.

The original production of We Will Rock You opened in 2002 at the Dominion Theatre in London, England. On August 17, 2005 it became the longest running musical at that venue, surpassing the previous record-holder Grease. This is notable as the Dominion Theatre is one of the largest theatrical venues in West End, with a seating a capacity of 2000 people. The London production was scheduled to close on October 7, 2006 but due to public demand, it has been extended to October 4, 2008).

The email included a handy link to Ticket King, so I clicked through to see what sort of seating was available. The angsty result was that I could seat right in second row, dead center.

Why angsty? Well, getting myself to TO on a Wednesday night seemed a bit complicated, and I generally wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going alone. But I knew Jean had a busy week then. So I canceled out of the ticket order and groused to Jean (in email) that missing this was “killing me”.

Well, ask your sister or a friend or somebody, he sensibly wrote back.

I had my doubts that was going to work, but emailed my younger sister anyway. “I know you probably don’t have time,” I wrote, “and that’s OK, but there is special We Will Rock You performance on August 1…”

“I’d love to see We Will Rock You!” she wrote back. “Let’s book it!”

So I did. (Row J at this point—not quite second row centre, but still pretty good.)

“Wow, you’re fast,” said my sister, a bit stunned to find herself booked in mere minutes after her reply.

Does this mean Ben Mulroney gets my first born?

My sister and I arranged the work leaves necessary to meet around 4:00 in downtown Toronto, spent some time at a not-terribly-successful shopping expedition to the Eaton’s Centre (though I did get a T-shirt!), then hobbled down to Church and Front on our fashionable and therefore not that comfortable shoes, intent on Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.

Only temporarily stymied by the astoundingly pale signage on said Wine Bar (is it so famous a space now that signage is moot?), we settled in for a quite lovely meal of 3 oz wines and tapas (fries with mayo, duck confit, rich beef and mushrooms…) and caught up on the family news.

… And in honour of my apparent pre-We Will Rock You ritual, we had to grab a cab to make it to theatre in time. (The first time I went to We Will Rock You, with Jean, our fine lunch at Jamie Kennedy Gardiner preceded a mad dash, then taxi ride, to the Canon Theatre.) We were further strained by the impressive line-up for the ladies room, but did get to our seats in time.

We Will Rock You logo

“Now, who’s going to be here tonight?” my sister asked, scanning the program to make sure that Suzie McNeil, of Rock Star: INXS fame, was still part of the cast. She was, and I explained about the encore featuring Brian May and Roger Taylor. And how they were actually in town for Canadian Idol, who were also filming at this performance.

And now I must draw your attention to the conditions under which we were permitted to be part of this “special” performance. The following Notification was handed out to everyone in attendance:

“By entering these premises you give Insight consent to the unlimited use of your name, voice, image, likeness, performance, and such biographic material as you may furnish to us in connection with the Program throughout the World, in perpetuity, in all media, now or hereafter known.”

Wow. In perpetuity. In all media, now or hereafter known.

I think Canadian Idol may now own my soul.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

It soon became apparent that:

  • The audience was incredibly enthusiastic (and large—I later heard the show was a sell-out).
  • We seemed to be the only two in it without glow sticks.

The show was every bit as enjoyable this time as the first time I saw it. It really is an incredible group of singers, and the script is just a lot of fun. I once again cried during “Only the Good Die Young” (and noticed Suzie McNeil as soon as she made her first appearance this time) and sang and stomped along with “We Will Rock You”. But it’s undeniable that the whole point of this musical (such as it is) is that manufactured pop idols are bad.

In other words, it has a very anti Idol message. So the irony of it all was a bit rich.

However, my ironic appreciation of that pretty much disappeared into fan-girl fever during the “Bohemian Rhapsody” encore, when Brian May himself came out to play the guitar solo, the cast giving him their best “I’m not worthy!” bow. In fact, such was my thrill that I can’t even tell you whether they did the whole operatic part of that song or not. I do know that Brian May returned and that Roger Taylor’s drum-kit swung forward for the last part of the song (does that mean they did do the operatic part?). And no Canadian Idol kids appeared for that part.

Brian and Roger with Canadian Idol kids
Yes, that is Carly Rae Jepsen beside Brian May, there

The always-gracious Brian May then spoke a few words to the crowd, praising the extension of the show in Toronto, saying they felt that they now “had a home in Canada”. The CI kids did pop out at this point. Brian spoke about working with them, indirectly addressing the irony by saying he was having a change of heart, sensing more authenticity in this set of potential “idols”—possibly a reference to the fact that CI allows the contestants to play their own instruments this year, which many of them can do.

At any rate, the CI kids and the cast then joined Brian and Roger in a performance of “Show Must Go On”, a famously difficult song to sing, but which the cast carried off effortlessly, the kids a little less so.

A potty tale

I had one of those nights where, concerned about not sleeping in, I woke frequently to check the clock. “2:20 huh? Guess I can go back to sleep…” So I was up in time, but feel a little dozy as my sister scrambled to get the boys and herself ready for the day.

She informed me that:

  1. Her husband was in Ottawa for the day.
  2. My brother had emailed at midnight to say that he and family would be arriving at her house earlier than expected (escaping the hot, crowded apartment they had been staying at).
  3. Work had emailed to ask whether she could prepare a few slides for a 9:00 meeting. “No,” she Blackberried back.

So it was all a bit frantic, but we did get away by 7:40, only 10 minutes later than planned and with sufficient time for me to make the 8:30 bus (I already had my ticket). In the car, my sister asked that I read my brother’s full email from her Blackberry. We sympathized with his description of the hot apartment (TO was having a heat wave). “And since you’ve kindly offered to leave a key…” I read.

—“Oh crap,” says sis. “I forgot to leave the key!”

So it was off the highway and back to the house. I attempted to get the house key off the ring of car keys while my sister was driving, but that proved unsuccessful. Even extracted, the house key proved a bit tricky (and my nephews were less than thrilled that their DVDs had stopped), but we managed it and got back on the road.

“We can still make it”, my sister assured me, and indeed, we made fairly good progress through the busy streets until my older nephew had news.

“Mommy, I have to go pee! Really bad!”

“Can you hold it?”

“No! It’s too strong!”

A pause, then a question to my younger nephew: “Are you done with your chocolate milk?”


“Well, can you finish it?”


I was in a complete fit of giggles at this point, but still managed to take the cup and dump the bit of chocolate milk remaining in it out the window.

My sister expertly coached her son through the “pee in a cup” process with little help from me, as I was still finding the whole thing a tad amusing.

But I made the bus on time.

My brother and his crew were able to let themselves into the house to cool off.

And my nephew enjoyed telling his teachers all about how he peed in a cup.


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