Queen musical takes aim at U.S. audiences

American tour of 'We Will Rock You' opened Tuesday

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NEW YORK — A musical built around songs by the rock band Queen has found a kind of magic abroad, charming European audiences for years. Now, its producers hope another group will finally go gaga for it -- Americans.

Eleven years after "We Will Rock You" debuted in London and spawned tours in Australia, Japan, Spain, Russia, South Africa and Italy, its first North American tour has just kicked off.

"We decided to take our time," says producer Jane Rosenthal, whose Tribeca Theatrical Productions, which she co-founded with Robert De Niro, will put the show on the road.

"We decided to let America wait."

Boasting an original futuristic story by British comedian and writer Ben Elton, the show contains 24 of Queen's biggest songs including "Another One Bites the Dust," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Are the Champions," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Will Rock You."

Elton worked with the surviving members of Queen and the family of the late singer Freddie Mercury to write a love story in a dystopian future studded with "perhaps the most theatrical rock music of all time."

The tour launched Tuesday in Baltimore and hits more than a dozen states and Canada over the next year, ending next summer in Los Angeles. It stars Brian Justin Crum and Ruby Lewis.

Set in a future when musical instruments are banned, individuality is taboo and everything is controlled by an international corporation, a small band of rebels wants to break free from the mindless dance music and celebrity gossip -- called "gaga" -- that's imposed from above.

A hero emerges — Galileo Figaro — who teams up with a girl — Scaramouche (both names are lifted from the lyrics to the rock opera tune "Bohemian Rhapsody") — and together they seek to resurrect real rock music. Songs include "Radio Ga Ga," "Under Pressure" and "A Kind of Magic."

"This is a way of taking this spectacular deep and rich catalog and being able to tell stories with it," says Rosenthal. "It defies any demographic."

Critics in England were less than kind when the show began its run in 2002, with the Times saying it was "so awful, it's almost entertaining" and the Guardian calling it "ruthlessly manufactured." The Daily Mirror went so far as to say that "Ben Elton should be shot for this risible story."

But "We Will Rock You" simply wouldn't bite the dust.

The show is still on in London's West End and has spawned several tours through 17 countries, playing to over 15 million people. A stripped-down version opened in Las Vegas in 2004 but lasted only a year.