The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Queen and Robert De Niro still involved in 'We Will Rock You' musical

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TORONTO - The stage musical "We Will Rock You" isn't the same old song and dance from its original days.

Canadian performers Erica Peck and Danny Balkwill, who were in the original Canuck company and are now in the North American tour, say the show-business superstars behind the material continue to update and improve it.

Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, for instance, have joined them on the road to add fresh touches with writer/director Ben Elton.

And Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, whose Tribeca Theatrical Productions company is among those behind the show, has attended a rehearsal.

"They're very involved," Peck said this week in an interview at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, where the show is running through May 10.

"So every time the show is put up again new, it's treated as something new and fresh. They tailor the script, they update it. In a show about the future, when especially now technology is changing so quickly, it's really important for them to consistently be updating it, and they do."

Peck was nominated for a Dora Award for playing rebellious Scaramouche in the 2007 homegrown production of the show, which features Queen's hits and a story of Bohemians struggling for freedom in a distant future. Balkwill was an alternate for the lead character, Galileo.

In the new version, which is running at the same venue it did in its original days (back then it was called the Canon Theatre), Peck plays Oz and Balkwill is in the ensemble and an understudy for three principal roles.

"This was my first show ever and then now coming back to it, six years after I originally got cast in it, it's a funny thing," said Toronto-based Peck, 27, who has since gone on to work at the Stratford Festival and across the country.

"When I was doing the show here at the Canon for a great Toronto audience, everybody in the show always told me, 'It's never like this in musical theatre.' Every show has its own magic, but there's something really amazing about this show, about the big finale.

"The fact that it's rock 'n' roll, people feel a little more free to join in on the concert aspect of our show."

That means audience members often get up and dance, something that still thrills Vancouver-based Balkwill.

"It's still as exhilarating when you're at the end singing 'We Are the Champions' and the whole audience is up on their feet waving their arms," said the 35-year-old former "Canadian Idol" contestant, who's performed in various productions across the country.

"There's not a lot of musicals that you get to experience something like that."

Elton, a British comedian and writer, regularly updates his original "We Will Rock You" book from 2002 to fit the times. In the current incarnation, there's a new character, new choreography, a new song and script changes with current references.

"Our opening night in Baltimore, Brian May came out and played the rock solo at the end, the guitar solo, which is always a fun time, because he's a rock legend, really," said Balkwill.

Meanwhile, De Niro attended a technical rehearsal and videotaped it on his iPhone.

"He came and sat at a table about four feet away and took a video for his kids," said Peck.

"The greatest part is that no matter what their power in the industry is or their clout, they're about striving to make this project that they're working on the best it can be," added Balkwill.

"You can't ask for more than that, really."

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