During the 22 years since Freddie Mercury's death, the Queen camp has carefully and at times creatively perpetuated the group's catalog and legacy. Reissues. A hit theater musical ("We Will Rock You"). Tours with Paul Rodgers and, this summer, with "American Idol" runnerup Adam Lambert in Mercury's stead.
Now comes the Queen Extravaganza, a nine-member tribute troupe not only sanctioned by Queen but assembled and produced by drummer Roger Taylor. Is THIS the real life, or is it just fantasy?
The Extravaganza -- which made its U.S. debut Thursday night (May 31) at Detroit's Fox Theatre after a three-show Canadian run -- is certainly a curio in that regard. It's obviously not a Queen concert, nor is it a plot-driven spectacle like "We Will Rock You." Instead it's a deep-digging 32-song, two-act homage, a kind of Queen concert that never was in that it surveys the group's entire 15-album catalog and, thanks to a facile cast in which everybody sings, is able to replicate even epic choral opuses such as "March of the Black Queen," the two-part "In the Lap of the Gods" and, of course, "Bohemian Rhapsody" with satisfying accuracy and in a manner the four-piece Queen itself was never able to accomplish.
The players are, in fact, the best thing the Extravaganza has going for it -- on top of a wealth of formidable songs, of course. The four lead vocalists parse up the setlist equitably, with veteran journeyman Jeff Scott Soto (Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen) handling metal-edge fare such as "Tie Your Mother Down," "Dragon Attack" and "Stone Cold Crazy" and Montrealeans Yvan Pedneault and Marc Martel -- the downhere frontman who bears a striking resemblance to Mercury -- holding down the more melodic end. Jennifer Espinoza, the Extravaganza's lone female, is somewhat under-utilized but still made her mark with "March of the Black Queen," "You're My Best Friend" and an emotive "Who Wants to Live Forever."
The best moments, however, come when the four trade vocal licks on tunes such as "One Vision," "A Kind of Magic," a dramatic "The Show Must Go On" and a full-bodied "Fat Bottomed Girls," effectively straddling the line between concert and show. Martel and Solo, meanwhile, ably pulled off the Mercury-David Bowie duet on "Under Pressure." The presence of two guitarists -- Tristan Avakian, a Brian May knock-off with his curls and even the same guitar, and left-handed Brian Gresh -- and keyboardist Brandon Ethridge allow the Extravaganza band to eschew the concert compromises Queen had to make, while drummer Tyler Warren is a powerhouse who also took on Taylor's lead vocal for "I'm in Love With My Car."
If there's a flaw in the Extravaganza equation, it's that the show isn't, well, extravagant enough. Bombast was a big part of Queen's culture, both in its staging and in Mercury's prancing campiness. None of the four Extravaganza singers try to match the latter -- perhaps wisely -- but visually the two-hour and 15-minute show (plus 20 minute intermission) seems lacking, particularly during a bare-bones first half that had some high points -- including a powerful "I Want It All" and Pedneault's rich "You Take My Breath Away" -- but didn't really come alive until three onstage video screens made their first appearance during the rock section of the deftly executed "Bohemian Rhapsody." The second half, at least, was better, with more amped-up lighting effects and a mix of visual material, including some vintage Queen footage. But the show cries for more of that and even additional pizzazz -- like, say, a virtual video "duel" between Warren and Taylor during the requisite drum solo.
That said, the Extravaganza is well-equipped to please fans who consider any Queen better than no Queen at all. You never lose sight that it's not the real thing, but it's an adequate enough simulation to suspend disbelief and just let this permutation of the Queen experience rock you for a little while.
The Queen Extravaganza set list includes:
Act 1 -- "We Will Rock You (fast version)," "Tie Your Mother Down," "Now I'm Here," "Killer Queen," "Love Of My Life," "I Want It All," "Bicycle Race," "I Want To Break Free," "March Of The Black Queen," "Dragon Attack," "You Take My Breath Away," "Save Me," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon," "I'm In Love With My Car," "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Act 2 -- "One Vision," "A Kind Of Magic," "Don't Stop Me Now," "Under Pressure," "Who Wants To Live Forever," "Another One Bites The Dust," "You're My Best Friend," "In the Lap of the Gods"/"In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited," [Drum Solo] "Stone Cold Crazy," "The Show Must Go On," "Radio GaGa," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Somebody To Love"
Encores -- "We Will Rock You," "We Are The Champions