Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well and living at West Fargo’s Sheyenne High School Theatre.
That’s thanks to the high school’s drama department, who decided to mount the popular Queen-inspired jukebox musical “We Will Rock You,” with performances Feb. 14 through 23.
The musical, filled with songs from the Freddie Mercury-led rock band Queen, is an anthem to individuality about two rebels, and a merry band of bohemians, attempting to restore rock ‘n’ roll in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by the brain-draining corporation Globalsoft.
Anthony Peterson, Sheyenne’s director of vocal music, is the show’s director. He’d seen a touring production of “We Will Rock You” and thought it would be a good fit this year.
“I like doing things that are a kind of a huge change of pace from what we have done in previous years,” Peterson said.
Last year they did the operetta “The Pirates of Penzance.” The year before that they tackled the near-opera “Titanic.”
Things are set to be a lot crazier this year.
“I felt the kids we would have this year would be able to pull this off,” he said.
McKenna Reiser, 15, a sophomore who plays a variety of roles in the show’s chorus, is one of those kids, and she said the atmosphere is energetic and supportive.
“It doesn’t matter what part you get,” Reiser said. “It’s just a really good atmosphere, and that builds you up.”
Every musical is ambitious, especially on the scale Sheyenne does them: A 600-seat theater, 43 student cast members, 36 student orchestra pit members, 11 student backstage crew members, 14 paid adults working on staff. The performance rights alone cost $5,000.
“We are in a very fortunate position in West Fargo to have a school district that greatly supports the arts,” Peterson said, “and provides us with an operating budget that allows us to do some very technically challenging, creative, and special things in our productions.”
Expect an array of digital projections to be particularly dazzling in “We Will Rock You,” he said.
And, of course, there’s that rock ‘n’ roll, a bevy of hit songs including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody To Love,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and the title song, as well as the lesser-known “Hammer To Fall.”
Erik Ault, a 17-year-old junior, and one of two percussionists in the orchestra pit, said it’s a fun challenge to play the score. He plays the vibraphone, bells, triangles, and a few other auxiliary instruments.
The toughest part, he said, is the split between the musicians in the pit and the rock band that’s on stage.
“All of our guitars and bass are up there,” he said, “and then we’re down in the pit. Keeping us in the right tempo is not always the easiest.”
It’s worth it, though, especially when the audience reacts to the live music.
“It’s really fun to surprise them,” Ault said. “We contributed to the show. We just used our talent differently.”
With its band of misfits challenging authority, sophomoric pop culture humor, and dystopian setting, the musical is equal parts “Animal House” and “Animal Farm.” This is the high school edition of the libretto, however, which Peterson said has been stripped of its innuendo and coarse language.
The songs, however, are exactly as you hear them on the Queen albums, he said, and they haven’t had to transpose anything for the cast.
“They’re killing it,” Peterson said.
If there’s a lesson in all of this madness, it’s a simple but potent one, according to Reiser.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously,” Reiser said. “It’s just full of a bunch of kooky characters that I think the audience will fall in love with. There’s jokes for all ages. It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s something in this show for you.”
When to see the show:
Performances run Feb. 14, 15, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 16 and 23 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students. Advanced reserve tickets are available at https://m.ovationtix.com/pr/1023017.
The box office can also be accessed through the Sheyenne High School activities webpage, https://www.west-fargo.k12.nd.us/shs/activities,by clicking on the Box Office tab.
Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door.