We Will Rock You: In conversation with Michael McKell
We Will Rock You is a jukebox musical based on the songs of the legendary band Queen. As the show celebrates its 20th anniversary, I had the chance to speak to Michael Mckell, who has played the character ‘Cliff’ for the past 3 years.
The award-winning actor adds the musical to his impressive repertoire. He came to prominence in the mid-1990s as the character Tony in a series of British television commercials for the Peugeot 106 car, alongside Julie Graham and Annie Dunkley. He was the face of Ancestry in their national campaign 2019.
Mckell is well-known for his soap opera appearances: Doctors, Emmerdale, and a small but memorable role in EastEnders. He is known for dramas such as Murder Investigation Team, Totally Frank, and Blessed. He starred in the British cult film Essex Boys and is even known for his contributions to Hollywood film, acting alongside Brad Pitt in the Allied. He is no stranger to the stage, performing with the band The Park as well as in the a 90s production of Macbeth.
Mckell spoke passionately about We Will Rock You. He explains: “The show is set in the future when crowds are no longer allowed to see bands live”. Although Ben Elton (who The Mancunion interviewed a few years back) created the musical two decades ago, the plot is perhaps even more relevant to our post-pandemic world. McKell praised Elton for his unique foresight: “He wrote this years ago; he predicted it. He’s even written previously about billionaires making rockets and flying them into space”.
If anybody needs lottery number predictions, it seems Ben Elton is your guy.
Mckell describes his character, Cliff, as “a mix between the cowardly lion and the tin man”. He points again towards Elton’s genius: “I get to be funny because of Ben Elton! He just knows an audience”.
A good script combined with Queen’s music is sure to make a good night. Mckell comments on the translation of rock music to stage: “The show isn’t a traditional musical: it’s sweaty, it’s rock and roll, we have a rock band”. He notes, “It’s extraordinary and gives a great feeling of community”.
Queen have rightfully earned a firm place in music history. Their music is important to many, including Mckell, who was “fortunate enough to have seen Queen perform live”. He explains why their music has such a strong grip decades later: “Their music has become the fabric of this country […] Queen, along with Bowie and Nile Rogers, reinvented the commercial”. He comments, “Their music breaks all the rules”.
Queen has too many hits to name; Mckell notes, “The show isn’t long enough to have all the hits”. But the musical still manages to fit in an impressive 24 songs!
Mckell’s passion for performing was apparent throughout the entire interview; he seemed extremely grateful for his career opportunities, which bring both himself and the audience joy. He explains, “The love from the audience, we get to bask in that as performers; we’re just very fortunate.: Pressure to perform can be intense at the very best of times, but especially when you are living up to the legacy of Queen. Mckell comments, The responsibility is enormous”. But the collaborations of such a talented, and as Mckell describes “extraordinary cast”, leave no worry of disappointment.
If you aren’t sure We Will Rock You is for you, Mckell’s thoughtful synopsis should convince: “If you want to be well away from any problem, any worry or anxiety and to be taken away by two and a half hours of pure entertainment, come see the greatest rock show there is”.
We Will Rock You plays at Palace Theatre Manchester from 5th-10th September – the final stop of its UK tour.
Check out our previous review of We Will Rock You, our review of Queen + Adam Lambert’s The Rhapsody Tour, and our review of (and interview with) Ben Elton.
Written by Jessica Hamilton.
Note: This article was originally published shortly after the interview but is one of several articles that were lost during a WordPress update.