When Craig Pesco says it was in the cards that he play the late Freddie Mercury of Queen fame, he isn't kidding.Pesco headlines an Australian production of Queen - It's A Kinda Magic, an elaborate tribute to the band in its prime.
A longtime fan of Mercury, Pesco has been touring the tribute around the world since 2001, and has received the blessing and approval of Peter Freestone, who was Mercury's personal assistant from 1979 until his death in 1991.
A few years before that, however, Pesco went to a tarot card reader and was impressed with her knowledge of him. He got some tarot cards and began studying them.
"The more I looked at them, the more the No. 1 card, the Magician, reminded me of Freddie," Pesco said in an interview earlier this month. "I began to think he had been the reincarnation of the card.
"And when I went back to the reader, she said I had managed to see into my future."
It has always been one of Pesco's great regrets that he never saw Queen perform live. He grew up idolizing the band - along with Aerosmith and Kiss - for combining hard rock with the theatrical. He became somewhat of an amateur historian about Queen.
When an Australian producer suggested putting a show about Queen together, Pesco says, "From the beginning I thought that it had to be a big production like Queen did. We should aim for venues that seated one- or two- or even five-thousand."
The show was originally created to mirror the 1986 Queen It's A Kinda Magic tour, which was when Mercury discovered he had contracted the AIDS virus.
"As we've developed it, we've added songs and costumes and sets from other points in their career," says Pesco. "We don't do anything from the early '70s, but from when the band was at their strongest starting in 1978.
"You could say that this is the ultimate Queen fantasy show, one that they never actually gave."
Pesco says the show is updated every two years with songs added or dropped and costumes and lights changed.
"We tour a lot, eight months out of every year," he says. "This is our fifth time coming to Canada."
The production is touring throughout the country during March, with stops in Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton.
Of course it wouldn't be a Queen show without a performance of their big hits such as We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody and Another One Bites the Dust. But Pesco says there are lots of other songs in the Queen catalogue that are equally as good.
"My current favourite is It's Late from the News of the World album in 1977, which had We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions on it," says Pesco. "It's Late, I think, has one of Freddie's best vocals."
He says the two-hour show features five or six costume changes, and the show can be altered slightly to accommodate the country it's being performed in.
"In Canada, Queen was most popular between 1978-82, so we will emphasize songs from the News of the World and Jazz albums," he says. As for his own performance, Pesco says he didn't have the vocal range of Mercury when he started, but has grown into it.
"People are going to criticize you if you can't do it properly," he says. "I go to a vocal coach regularly and I think I'm the right age to be playing Freddie, who was a mature man when he was in his prime."
Getting the blessing of Freestone meant a lot to Pesco.
"He saw us in 2003 and said we were the closest thing to Queen he'd ever seen," says Pesco. "That vote of confidence really helped me at a time when people were being critical.
"I don't try to be Freddie when I'm off stage. I only access that energy when I'm onstage and I enjoy stepping into Freddie's mentality."
'Queen - It's A Kinda Magic' takes the stage at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John on March 26, the Capitol Theatre in Moncton on March 28 and The Playhouse in Fredericton on March 29. All performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets, $40-$59.95, are available at individual box offices. http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/rss/article/986997