Emilia Di Luca
A night of sing-alongs, iconic outfits and talented vocals await Queen fans at Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT). Presented by LOT and Maurice Galpern alongside director Alan Kinsella, Don’t Stop Me Now! retells the birth and life of the band Queen and its lead, the legendary Freddie Mercury.
The story is grand. The setting is quaint. In the small theatre, bistro tables covered by red tablecloths fill the space closest to the stage. The female actors Andria Crabbe, Kit Boulter and Bianca Heuvelmans along with the lone male actor, Josh Blackstock as Freddie, provide all the singing and dancing. Meanwhile Mike Ross, Steve John Dale, Julien Bigras, Jack Lemaire and Robert Purcell provide musical accompaniment; they hit the classics like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Under Pressure.” The show feels like you’re watching a cover band, but with way more storytelling and creative performance.
Unlike the musical We Will Rock You, the actors do not slip into fictional characters or a fabricated plot. The actors recognize themselves as performers portraying Freddie, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. Blackstock makes the cast’s intention clear when he states: “I’m not trying to be Freddie.” However, in the next scene, he enters wearing Freddie’s infamous skin-tight, nipple-exposing black and white checkered V-neck unitard. His co-actors are quick to call him out jokingly.
In fact, costume designer Kathleen Black replicates several of Freddie’s unforgettable looks, everything from his yellow leather jacket to his mustache. Crabbe, Boulter and Heuvelmans also embody the iconic looks of the ‘70s and ‘80s. But their big hair cannot compete with all of Blackstock’s ‘dos, especially when he comes out vacuuming with a bob and pair of breasts—obviously recreating Freddie in drag from the “I Want to Break Free” video. Black was under pressure to get it right since music videos and famous pictures often appeared on the two screens on either side of the stage.
Besides photos, the screens also include brief descriptions to provide context, but the most important text, “Lover of life and singer of songs,” appears on screen as the cast commemorates Freddie’s life. The actors also tell anecdotes and facts about Queen between song numbers.
Thanks to lighting designer Mikael Kangas and artistic director Tessa Farr, the scenes had that smoky, rock n’ roll edge.
While director Kinsella nailed the recreation of iconic images like the music video of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sometimes the acoustics of the LOT made it difficult to hear and the lights scanning the audience made it difficult to see.
Overall, Don’t Stop Me Now! entertains and unites Queen fans in Toronto. The performance is genuine and truly captures the actors’ and musicians’ love for Queen. They even turn the house lights up and dance through the audience. Their genuine passion had audience members singing along to more than just “We Will Rock You.”
Don’t Stop Me Now! runs until March 28 at the Lower Ossingtion Theatre (LOT). For more information and tickets visit: http://lowerossingtontheatre.com.
photo credit: Seanna Kennedy