Futuristic musical set to Queen soundtrack makes Birmingham debut on October 30
By Brent Thompson
It’s fair to say that – despite the death of iconic frontman Freddie Mercury in 1991 – Queen’s impact remains as strong as ever. The band’s three surviving members still perform together with the aid of vocalist Adam Lambert, the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was an Oscar-winning success and the musical We Will Rock You is now in its 17th year of existence. Set in a sterile future devoid of rock music and independent thought, We Will Rock You finds a group of bohemians fighting the system to the soundtrack of Queen’s music. On Wednesday, October 30, We Will Rock You comes to the Alabama Theatre. Recently, cast member Kyle Gruninger (Khashoggi) spoke with us by phone from Texas.
Birmingham Stages: Kyle, thanks for your time. Are most of the We Will Rock You shows one-night engagements or do you perform multiple shows in each city?
Kyle Gruninger: We’re usually one-off in each city. In New York and Vegas we stay a few more days, but most are just one-offs.
Birmingham Stages: What is the tour’s schedule?
Gruninger: We are in the States until December 1st and then we hit Canada after that. We have months and months to go. We’ve been on the road for about a month now. We started rehearsals in August.
Birmingham Stages: How did you initially get involved in the production?
Gruninger: I’m an actor, performer and a singer and I saw an audition and a couple of friends of mine saw it as well and sent it to me. I’m a huge Queen fan, so as soon as I saw the notice go up I flew in from a cruise ship that I was working on in Florida and I auditioned.
Birmingham Stages: Where is your home base when you aren’t on the road?
Gruninger: I don’t really know another life that is not on the road [laughs], but most of the time I’m in Southern Alberta, Canada. I’m only there for very short periods of time – most of the time I live on the road.
Birmingham Stages: It sounds like, as a Queen fan, this show presents a great personal opportunity for you.
Gruninger: Yes, very much so. I’m a huge, huge, huge Queen fan so when I saw it coming up I had everything prepared and wanted it bad.
Birmingham Stages: With We Will Rock You and the film Bohemian Rhapsody, I’m glad to see that Queen still receives the recognition it deserves.
Gruninger: As am I. With The success of the movie and all of our shows doing very well, you can just tell it’s going well for them.
Birmingham Stages: When you’re not performing in the live theatre, you front the band Incura [incura.bandcamp.com]. How do you balance your careers of music and live theater?
Gruninger: It’s a little bit of a juggling act most of the time, but I try to record music with my band on my off-time from theater. When I’m on the road, I have stuff to release for my band. Then, when I get off the road from my theater stuff, I’ll tour my own original music. That’s kind of how it’s balanced for the past four or five years.
Birmingham Stages: Which creative medium did you seek first – music or theater?
Gruninger: It’s a good mixture to tell you the truth. I was taken to see The Phantom of the Opera at a very young age and fell in love with the dark theatrics of the theater and love and tragedy, but my dad is a rock and roll guy and I listened to a lot of rock and roll growing up. So, I kind of melded the two. I have a theater degree but I also tour with my own band. My band is a theatrical rock band, so it’s a hybrid of both.
Birmingham Stages: As a musician, you have the freedom to change set lists and improvise. That’s obviously not the case in a production like We Will Rock You. How do you deal with the repetitive nature of the theater?
Gruninger: The greatest thing about theater is the repetition is there for the lines and the words, but it’s literally different every night. There’s a different stage and each stage is a different size. Every night we go out there and I play that same character, it’s a different experience for me. Sometimes I wish it was more mundane [laughs] – I wish we could play the same stage once or twice. Every single day is a new challenge and that’s one of the things we’ve focused on with this tour – to make every venue the same when they’re all very different.
Birmingham Stages: So you still find creative freedom within the framework of the show’s script?
Gruninger: Every single day. The great and terrible thing about theater is you have to keep going – there are 2,000 people watching you as you stumble through it. The fear is always a great way to keep you motivated and keep you interested [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: Do you think that your two different careers compliment and affect each other?
Gruninger: I think so. I think with the performance aspect of live music nowadays, I think the theatrical side can inspire the rock side as far as the live show. Also, you’re playing a character as the lead singer of a song so I think they both compliment each other very well.
Birmingham Stages: It sounds like your careers afford you a nice variety.
Gruninger: And when I don’t like anything, I’ll head out on a cruise ship to the middle of the ocean and leave everything behind for a while.
Birmingham Stages: How would you describe the typical audience at a We Will Rock You performance? Do you see younger attendees getting turned on to Queen’s music?
Gruninger: Yeah, I’d say my favorite part is the fact that you look out into the audience and someone who’s nine years old is in a Queen shirt giving you the horns and there are three people beside him wearing their Queen shirts from when they saw them on tour in 1975. It’s such a cool mixture of fans. We run out into the audience and I get to high-five all these kids that are into this music and it makes me very happy. Hopefully, when you high-five one of those kids they take that experience home, they tell people and that theater experience inspires them to do whatever they want to do in life.
Birmingham Stages: Could the We Will Rock You tour be extended if additional dates are requested?
Gruninger: That sounds like my living nightmare you just talked about [laughs] – you just wake up and it keeps on going. That’s actually the dream, I guess. As long as the production company owns the rights to doing it, they could add more dates. This could run for a while. Right now, we’re going to hit the end of February but there are rumors it could extend.
Birmingham Stages: Even though you are already a Queen fan, has this “deep dive” into its catalog allowed you to learn more about the band’s music?
Gruninger: Oh, every day. The great thing is we got to work with Stuart Morley who is Queen’s musical director and theatrical director. He would take samples of Freddie’s voice and just let us listen to them – things from the studio that nobody’s heard before. He would rework the melodies how Freddie would have reworked them and things like that. I listen to them every day still and hear the magic that was in there.
We Will Rock You comes to the Alabama Theatre on Wednesday, October 30. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $46.50 – $56.50 and can be purchased at www.alabamatheatre.com.