Looking back at the distinguished history of American theater, it's easy to underestimate the importance of rock operas.
After all, how could one overlook the cultural impact of the Who's Tommy? And what brazen heretic would dare to downplay
the vast, um, significance of the ABBA-inspired Mamma Mia!
OK, stop laughing. Although few pop superstars have succeeded in parlaying their greatest hits into lucrative theatrical
productions -- Jesus Christ and Pete Townshend being the notable exceptions -- two new rock-based musicals will soon hit the
States after profitable stints in London. We Will Rock You, a lavish opera inspired by the works of Queen -- and produced
by Robert DeNiro's TriBeCa Theatrical Productions -- may soon wash ashore, along with Taboo, a musical based partly
on the life of Boy George.
We Will Rock You is a futuristic drama set on The Planet Formerly Known as Earth -- now renamed Planet Mall -- where
all musical instruments have been banned and all humans have been reduced to mindless slaves. (Sadly, Freddie Mercury is still
dead.) Its novel premise?
"Everywhere, kids watch the same movies, wear the same fashions and think the same thoughts," reads the sinister promo.
"It is an age of Boy Bands and of Girl Bands." And it's up to a colorful cast of characters (Galileo Figaro, Scaramouche and
a quartet of rebels known as the Bohemians) to save the universe by torturing their oppressors with over-produced arena rock.
Taboo takes a long, hard look at the '80s British club scene, with Boy George himself playing the late, legendary
drama queen Leigh Bowery. The show features plenty of synth-pop standards ("Karma Chameleon," "Do You Really Want to Hurt
Me"), along with 16 new numbers written exclusively for the five remaining members of George's fan club. It should arrive
on Broadway by late fall. -- Rossiter Drake