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The Men Who Would Be Queen

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Being a cover band is hard line to walk. If you’re in the band, you know that the people in the crowd have come to hear someone else’s music. They will be thinking of the other band the whole time, even if they are watching and listening to you (take from that whatever innuendo you will).

When I first heard about the Queen show “Its a Kinda Magic” coming to the Playhouse later this month, I thought I was going to be doing a piece on a cover band. The Australian quartet that makes up the cast are not quite that. They don’t just play Queen songs. They play Queen. When they go on stage, Matt Newton, Brett Millican, Travis Hair and Craig Pesco go on as John Deacon, Roger Taylor, Brain May and Freddie Mercury.

I caught up with frontman Craig Pesco as the group was leaving Hamilton for Toronto and Massey Hall. Pesco has the unenviable task of playing Freddie Mercury. The role of Mercury, who died in 1991 from complications related to AIDS, would seem to have unlimited potential to garner the hatred of former fans.

None of that potential for failure was lost on Pesco when he took the role. It wasn’t until the show got the approval of Peter Freestone, Freddy Mercury’s former personal assistant, that Pesco felt he was going in the right direction.

“You know when you do something like this you think ‘Oh God, how is anybody going to accept me as Freddie Mercury, its such a big job, you’ll never do it’. [Peter Freestone] came along and he saw us in 2003 and said, ‘This is exactly what it was like when I first started touring with Queen.’ So that was just a great shot in the arm. It gave me, personally, the confidence to really push it up to a level.”

As for researching the role itself, Pesco, a self-described “huge Queen fan” told me that he’d already been doing that for years before he was even asked to do Its a Kinda Magic. Outside of the physical training (Mercury’s stage presence was not what one would call “subdued”), and the vocal training Pesco felt he knew the role.

“I already had watched hundreds of hours of Queen live in concert, I knew all their songs back to front, I knew everything about them. So really these days its a matter of letting that back out more than anything.”

Watching hundreds of hours of Queen is exactly how the production company behind this show put it together. Instead of reproducing any one particular concert, Its a Kinda Magic is trying to reproduce the feel of Queen in concert. The live performances of Queen were such a part of the group’s allure, and the personality of Mercury so integral to it that a straight cover show would almost be antithetical to what Queen was for a lot of fans.

“When you look at a band like Queen its got to be over the top. The production has to be bombastic and outrageous,” Pesco told me, “The four guys in the cast have a background in theatre and rock-and-roll and they’ve been specializing in this group for almost ten years. You know you’ve got so many fantastic songs and you’ve got us playing roles that are really like acting roles because the personalities are so strong.”

I imagine any Queen fans out there are divided into two camps right now. One that can’t wait to see the show, and another that thinks any attempt at replicating Queen onstage is doomed to failure. You’ll be able to see for yourself when the show goes on March 29th at the Playhouse.

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Written by Colin Hodd

April 16, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Posted in Print

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