Added on 23-Sep-2008
WHEN it first emerged that tub-thumping comedian Ben Elton was writing a musical based on the songs of Queen - or indeed any musical - it seemed an odd departure for the Manchester University graduate.
He explains: "I didn't set out to write musicals, although I wrote a couple at Manchester University. But at 23, I was writing television comedy like The Young Ones and at 25 I was writing Blackadder.
"When Queen first approached me it was initially with the idea of writing a biographical tribute to Freddie Mercury but the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that, although Freddie was and still is a legend, their music was really about all four of them.
"I'd just seen the film, The Matrix, and wanted to write something futuristic and they wanted some of the Blackadder humour included. We workshopped it and that's when Robert De Niro and his theatrical company, Tribeca, came on board. Naturally it was very exciting when he first came to see the show.
"Unfortunately the critics hated it, but Queen fans loved it and that's why we're still here. I'm not pretending it's Shakespeare, and it may seem to some that it's a rather silly plot but it's about young kids fighting the big corporations who want to suppress their individuality and their love of music.
"They need a hero who can help them with their struggle and we have two - the dreamer Galileo and the sassy rock chick Scaramouche and the audience seems to relate to them.
"But there's nothing silly about the powerful songs, and we've about 24 of them in this show, which are played and sung live every night. Brian and Roger insist that at least one of them is around for the auditions because these musicians have to be able to play their stuff well."
Queen guitarist Brian May agrees. "The amazing bonus is that Ben's script subtly works as a metaphor, too. People definitely come out of the theatre feeling, in a strange way, that they know us, Queen, and our struggle, our journey."
Band-mate Roger Taylor echoes these sentiments. "Creating the show with Ben was very much a three-way process which was great because Ben has such an active mind and has been a great pleasure to work with. He has a great, fertile mind that never stops churning out ideas."
Choreographer Arlene Phillips will be returning to home turf - she hails from Prestwich - when the curtain goes up for the first time on the show in Manchester.
"There's no way Manchester will get the B team," says Arlene, setting out to reassure theatre-goers who always worry whether a touring production cast will be of the same calibre as that playing to audiences in the West End.
The smash hit musical, which has broken box-office records at London's Dominion Theatre, has remained there since its opening almost seven years ago. It has grossed £100m and will arrive at the Palace Theatre next March for a 12-week stint.
Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene has enjoyed a long and successful collaboration with Queen: "I first came into contact with the band in the '80s when I was hired to create the dance for their video of I Was Born To Love You, in which I used hundreds of marching girls," she says.
"Since then I've choreographed, and sometimes directed, shows like Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Starlight Express.
"I know I have the reputation of being she who must be obeyed, but it's the only way I know how to work quickly and successfully.
"I've also worked with Ben on the tours abroad and really enjoyed them. I'm always there for the casting and the new cast will be young, fresh and energised.
"Queen's music stands on its own and any dance I create will embrace the music not overpower it. This is a spectacle with fabulous costumes and it's a real feel-good show.
"Because the tour starts in my home town I know I'll be a bit apprehensive and I'll have butterflies but Ben and I both intend to be there on opening night."
And as they await the big opening in Manchester, Ben's enthusiasm is as fervent as ever for a show that has done little for his street cred - at least as far as those critics are concerned. He says: "Those who haven't seen this show may think it's just another tribute show or a jukebox musical but this is a real rock-theatrical experience."
Greater Manchester theatre-goers will soon get the chance to judge that for themselves.