Queen Symphonic: a rock orchestra experience in Eastbourne
Queen fans can enjoy the group’s legendary tunes on an epic scale at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre this month.
Queen Symphonic – A Rock Orchestra Experience heads to the venue on Wednesday, February 26 (7.30pm), and mixes Queen’s music with some truly spectacular arrangements.
It features four vocalists from We Will Rock You, plus a five-piece rock band and an awesome symphony orchestra.
Speaking to the Eastbourne Herald, singer Jon Boydon says he loves what the addition of an orchestra does to Queen’s sound.
“The music is so big in its arrangement,” he explains, pointing out Queen’s already larger-than-life style. “It’s so sophisticated, particularly Brian’s (May) guitar work. The melodies they wrote actually they lend themselves to orchestra very well.”
As Jon says, the show isn’t really about creating new music to accompany pre-existing material. It’s about taking well-known rock anthems and allocating parts of those songs throughout an orchestra.
“Brian very famously wrote guitar parts to sound like clarinet sections and trumpets and saxophones and he multi-tracked them,” Jon continues. “So it’s a very easy transition to hear the music ‘opened up’ with the full effect of an orchestra. It means we don’t need to use any keyboards or sound effects and that kind of stuff. We’ve got the real thing here.”
This approach works particularly well on tunes like ‘Innuendo’ and, obviously, on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which already has its own little operatic middle section.
“They’re already leaning towards the theatricality and that larger scale,” Jon says. “If you do something like The Beatles, which has been done, there is a sense that certain songs were just a rhythm section – guitar, bass, drums and John and Paul singing – and that adding sonic elements to it is just kind of embellishing it. But I think with Queen’s music it’s sort of already there. The implication is already there in the music, the energy is already there in the recorded songs and it just is that little tip to take them onto that next stage with a full symphonic orchestra.”
“And I think, perhaps, it opens up people’s ears a little bit,” he adds. “They focus on music that they are familiar with but they hear it in a new way.”
So how do the four singers – two men and two women – divide up the singing duties?
“We each take turns at taking the lead or we do a couple of duets and a couple of group numbers,” Jon explains. “But while the other guys are singing the lead the remaining three are doing the BVs (backing vocals) the whole time, so we never leave the stage.”
The singers can change from venue to venue but two of the performers at the Eastbourne show should be Peter Eldridge (who comes complete with a classic rock look, attitude and sound), as well as West End and Over The Rainbow star Lauren Samuels.
“The division of the songs between the male and female voices works brilliantly,” says Jon. “‘Somebody to Love’ was sung by a female in the musical (We Will Rock You) and it’s replicated here by a female.”
“Freddie was so flamboyant and so theatrical in his performance, and his range is so high, that it actually fits very naturally with the girls. Some of the love story elements to the lyrics work really well too, the interplay that we can do between the male and female performers. There’s good duets and that sort of stuff.”
So what’s Jon’s favourite song in the production?
“I particularly like performing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’,” he laughs. “Such an obvious answer. But it’s the song really that everybody’s come to hear, or at least everybody’s expecting to hear. Everybody’s waiting for it.”
It’s a huge arrangement, he enthuses, and it’s a treat to hear the entire thing live. Queen themselves would often cut to a video for the famous ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche’ segment before a rollicking live finale.
“To do the whole thing from beginning to end – live vocals, full orchestra, guitars screaming, drummer going for it and the audience joining in and head banging and singing along at the end – it’s just a celebration of everything that was Queen. And it’s such a highlight, wherever we do it, whenever we do it. It never fails.”
“And I don’t think that’s us patting ourselves on the back,” he adds. “It’s just us as performers and the audience all together celebrating what an incredible piece of music it is, what a unique song it is.”
Unsurprisingly, Jon was a fan of Queen growing up and this passion has been poured directly into the show.
“I’ve been a gun for hire doing concerts of all kinds of material and sometimes learning it for the first time,” Jon says. “But Queen was one of the cassettes that we had in my mum’s car.”
“We probably had four casettes that we used to rotate and Queen’s Greatest Hits was always on. I was probably about eight or nine when I used to listen to it. I didn’t know what they looked like. I didn’t know anything about the band, but we just had this cassette and I knew all of the words from all of the songs from a very young age. So, later on in life, to be cast in the musical, to meet Brian May and Roger Taylor, to sing in front of them their own songs, you know, those are the moments you pinch yourself in your career. And now ten years on from having done the musical, to still be doing these songs, I haven’t got bored of them which is testament to how great they are.”
Jon has been on a world tour with Queen Symphonic since 2019, but before that he was in the UK premiere of Heathers: The Musical (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Mamma Mia! (UK Tour) and We Will Rock You. However, he is probably best known for his six years with the London production of Jersey Boys where he played Tommy Devito for more than 2,000 performances.
“They’re very different animals really,” Jon says. “Jersey Boys in the West End is very much being at home, travelling, commuting into London to work and back every day, being in one place. There’s a lot of things about that that are constant and consistent and comfortable. You’re on the same stage with, to a greater or lesser extent, the same people doing the same thing every day. Then you deal with the micro responses of the audience or the energy of the other people you’re working with.”
“Compare that to a tour, which is the opposite, and you’re in a different place every day,” he continues. “The sound is different, sometimes the orchestra is different if we’re travelling country to country. Sometimes we’re outside, sometimes we’re inside. You’re dealing with the delights and pressures of being on the road.”
But whatever situation the cast find themselves in – unfamiliar country, strange food, tired after a 15-hour flight – they are fully engaged in delivering the material as professionally as possible.
“There’s a sort of calm that comes and a focus that comes,” says Jon. “As performers we just try to do our best no matter what the circumstances, no matter what problems they bring.”
“There’s a real sense of responsibility that comes with it and a lot of enjoyment without a doubt. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t enjoy it.”
Tickets cost £37-£48. Call 01323 412000 or visit www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk.
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