WILL ROCK YOU (MELBOURNE)
A little over a year ago, when Guy Simpson was passing through London on his way to New York, he asked his London work colleagues which shows he should see. He was told the critics had savaged We Will Rock You and it wasn’t worth seeing as it wouldn’t run. Guy thought, ’Oh, I won’t bother to see that one….’
He laughs as he tells me, “ A year later I was sent over by the producers of We Will Rock You specifically to see it, and I didn’t see anything else at all!”
His family having emigrated from England to Australia in 1969, Guy grew up and completed his education in Sydney. As a teenager, Guy was a huge Queen fan. In 1976 he saw Queen in concert in Sydney but never imagined that 27 years later he would be working with Brian May and Roger Taylor!
Finishing school, Guy started a law degree, but after two weeks realized the futility of pursuing something he wasn’t committed to.
“I only did law because I did well at school and thought I should use the good marks. But then I thought, ‘how silly is this?’ I needed to do what I really wanted to do, which was play the piano.”
directions to study at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Guy achieved
a degree in Piano Performance, with Secondary Studies in conducting and
cello. It was 4 intensive years of piano study and performances.
“I said ‘what’s an MD?’ In fact, I went to this job to be Musical Director of a small musical not really knowing what I had to do!! But luckily I had a great cast and band - and we got through. The show was a great success and one thing lead to another.”
to other things it did - Guy is now one of Australia and South East Asia’s
most successful and well-known Musical Directors having worked as Musical
Supervisor or Director on many productions, including Cats, Miss Saigon,
Chicago, The Phantom Of The Opera, Cabaret, and now We Will Rock You.
“What an MD does really is to be responsible for the musical side of the show on a day to day basis. The first thing is to conduct the orchestra, or in the case of We Will Rock You, lead the band. The MD also coaches and rehearses the understudies. He watches the show regularly to maintain the standard - as a colleague once said ‘every night is opening night for that audience’
Guy’s renewed enthusiasm for Queen’s music is evident as he tells me, “Also, in this case, I have to play some keyboard parts as well. Which is great because I get to do all the really good piano bits!! The really iconic bits... all those wonderful phrases that are instantly recognizable… for example, the intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. You know, you hear four notes of that and you know what it is immediately. So it’s kind of nice to be chosen to play those bits in We Will Rock You”
As he continues, Guy gives the impression he is happy to have broken out of his ‘pigeon-hole’, “I’ve often felt during my career that I have been labeled as that guy who does the orchestral pit shows. And this is perhaps the most rocking of the rock musicals if you like. I love the variety and want to conduct as many different styles as possible.”
For years I did Phantom Of The Opera. There couldn’t be anything more removed from Phantom Of The Opera than We Will Rock You, and a lot of my colleagues had raised eyebrows… ‘What? You’re doing WHAT?!!’ I was the first to admit that I wasn’t even considering myself for this show. You get these notions in your head of what sort of conductor, what sort of musician is suitable for what sort of show, and it’s often not the case.”
Deciding to throw his hat into the ring for the MD of We Will Rock You, Guy had to be interviewed and audition like everyone else.
At the time of the interview he was Musical Director of the recent Australian production of Cabaret and flew down to Melbourne for the day to meet with Brian May and Roger Taylor.
The audition process is familiar to Guy – but usually from the other side of the table - I do a lot of auditions myself – I’m on the panel for loads of musicals, interviewing singers and actors.
They gave me the music to No One But You and said, ‘just go over in the corner and have a look at this, have a little tinkle… we’re not listening.’ And I said, ’Yeah! Right!!!’ (Guy laughs) They said, ‘How many times have YOU said that to someone?’ and I thought, ’Ooh, we do it ALL the time!!’ You know, with an actor you say, ’Oh just look at this part of the score, we’re not listening!!… (Guy has another chuckle) Of course, you’re all ears!!!
So I just started tinkling around, and then Brian wandered over and started singing. I thought, ‘OK Guy, this is the audition now, you’d better start performing’, you know… rather than just fiddling around with a few chords and working it out. And I kind of revved up and started performing, and he started singing… and it all went very well, and he just leaned over and said, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got a good feel for that.’
The rest of course is history. Guy Simpson is the Musical Director of Melbourne’s production of We Will Rock You and his doubts have been obliterated. As he said, “When they chose me to do it I thought, ‘If Brian May thinks I can do this… then I’m jolly well sure I can!!’”
In Part 2, Guy talks about comparisons of We will Rock You with Mamma Mia! - analyzing the progression of the rock epic genre and the structure of Queen’s music, gives us his unique insight into rehearsals, explains how he interacts with the cast, and offers his opinion on the appeal of We Will Rock You to an audience not traditionally associated with musicals – men!!