When Stuart Morley arrived in Calgary from London on July 29, he was a man with a mission.
The musical director had been asked, by none other than Queen co-founder and guitarist Brian May, to oversee the first week of rehearsals for a Calgary version of the band musical We Will Rock You that is being mounted by Jeff Parry’s Annerin Productions.
May made it clear to Morley that he wanted the Calgary production to be the best version yet of the iconic show that opened in London in 2002. When We Will Rock You closed 12 years later, in 2014, it had become the 15th longest-running musical in West End history.
It was indeed an onerous assignment but Morley had a secret weapon in his suitcase. He had a brand new score for the musical that he’d been working on.
“It was Queen’s manager Jim Beach who rang me and said there was a new North American touring version of We Will Rock You being mounted in Calgary. (He asked) ‘did I think my new score was ready to incorporate into it’ because they were eager to speak to me,” said Morley, who conferred with May and Queen drummer Roger Taylor before agreeing to bring his new music to Calgary.
“I’ve re-Queened the score. I’ve made it more like the original Queen. I went to Queen’s studio and I listened to old vocals. This new score is far more accurate and authentic. When they were creating the original score for the musical, they made it more theatrical than authentic.
“I’m a purist so I want to bring the score back to its roots. I’ve been given access to tapes no one else has been given to work with. I feel this new version of the musical can be something not even Brian and Roger thought it could become,” said Morley, who added that he spent a lot of time with Brian and “learned a great deal from him about the passion these men have for this band.”
Morley first joined We Will Rock You in 2007, five years into its London run, and stayed with it until it closed in 2014. Since then, he was created versions using the original score in Brazil, on the Royal Caribbean cruise liners, in Australia, Denmark and Hungary.
Queen guitarist Brian May, right, and music producer Stuart Morley on stage during We Will Rock You, a rock musical based on the iconic band.
We Will Rock you is the story of a futuristic society that has wiped out individualism. Its people are essentially robots but a band of Bohemians live on the outskirts of the city waiting for a rock god saviour to appear.
“The story behind We Will Rock You has become even more relevant than when Ben Elton originally wrote it, so the story, as well as the music, will have a greater impact.”
Morley said “Queen’s music has always had an enormous influence and impact. We went to a recent Queen concert. You knew no one had been dragged there and it was a complete cross-section of concertgoers. There were older fans who’d grown up with Queen and there were new fans of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Queen’s music is timeless. I am one of the biggest Queen fans there is so I am living my dream,” said Morley.
The director of the Calgary touring production, JP Thibodeau, said having Morley there for the first week of rehearsals was truly exciting.
“We are the guinea pigs for his new score. His enthusiasm and excitement for the project was instantly contagious.
“Stuart had found a sample tape of what Freddie Mercury did with the song Kind of Magic and, using it as a base, created a new five-part harmony version for the show.
“We worked on it and he sent a tape of it to Brian back in London. Brian tweeted that real magic was happening in Calgary. It was an incredible reaffirmation that what we’re doing here is the right thing,” said Thibodeau. “With this kind of support from Brian May, it means more to us than simply doing another piece of musical theatre.”
Krystle Chance will be reprising her role of the Killer Queen, which she recently played in a Niagara Falls production of We Will Rock You.
“Working with Stuart that first week was really eye-opening. He was able to explain and break down the lyrics of the songs. It brought my storytelling to life much deeper and better than before. Even this early in the process, I know I’m making this role more vibrant and vital.
“To hear Stuart talk about listening to original tapes of Freddie Mercury is a bit surreal. It’s awe-inspiring.”
Also from the Niagara production, Trevor Coll will reprise the role of Galileo, the young rock prophet.
“To get input from a man who has worked on so many different versions of this show and who has now rewritten the score means what we are creating in Calgary (is) unparalleled. He knows the show, the music and the lyrics intimately. Stuart really fired us all up before he left. We now know why these songs were written.”
Morley says the star of We Will Rock You has always been Queen’s music. “The story is there simply to support the music. Audiences come to hear these iconic tunes, so you have to give them the best versions possible.”
Rehearsals for the Calgary version of We Will Rock You will continue in Calgary and Medicine Hat. It will premiere Sept. 2 at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg before touring for three months in the U.S. It returns to Canada with dates in Ontario in November and will play at the Jubilee Auditorium on Dec. 27 and 28.
The creative team for this Annerin production of We Will Rock You includes director JP Thibodeau, musical director Russell Broom, choreographer Angela Benson, set designer Terry Gunvordahl and costumer designer Angela Dale.
There are 16 cast members in the company, with a five-piece band and a running crew of 12.