They are the champions!
You have to love singer Brody Dolyniuk, and conductor and arranger Brent Havens, for carrying off a tribute to the British band Queen with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday night.
“I don’t think they’ll pull it off,” my husband, Howard, said on the way to Kleinhans Music Hall.
He had legitimate doubts. It was a tall order. Freddie Mercury is one of rock’s great personalities and, more dauntingly, one of rock’s great voices. The songs, too, have a certain something that is hard to duplicate.
But the concert worked. Everyone had fun; The good-sized crowd stood and clapped with “We Will Rock You.” 97 Rock’s Carl Russo got to conduct the BPO for one number. He enjoyed himself, too.
Dolyniuk, prancing around as the voice of Freddy Mercury, had as much fun as anyone. He was himself part of the time and Mercury part of the time, and it worked. He did a lot of the Mercury moves, freezing in what looks sort of like a yoga warrior pose, playing air drums, pulling up his shirt, clowning as the spirit moved him. He had a hilarious shtick involving jumping off the stage and not being able to get back up. A guy nearby would have to get up and push his rear so he could get back on the stage. It got a laugh every time.
His voice seemed to improve as the night went on. He could nail the high notes from the beginning, a feat in itself. But as we got into the second half his voice sounded fuller and stronger and had more of that hyper Mercury quality. These songs must give him a good workout.
They also gave the orchestra a bit of a workout from time to time, an unusual thing in a rock show. The songs of Queen were written with large forces in mind, and make better use of our musicians than songs of some other rock bands do. “Princes of the Universe,” heard in the movie “Highlander,” had a stentorian orchestra introduction. “Bohemian Rhapsody” must have taken quite an effort to put together, and the work paid off. The piece had presence.
Sal Andolina, the BPO’s saxophonist, stepped forward for a solo in “Melancholy Blues” and sounded right at home. It was a rich, lyrical solo and the audience loved it.
At the same time, the music never took itself too seriously. At the end of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Dolyniuk invited percussionist Mark Hodges to play the gong again, louder, and then again.
“Who wants to hear it again, even louder?” he goaded listeners, who roared.
Song followed song. As wild colored lights bathed the hall, we heard “Under Pressure”; “Days of our Lives”; and “The Show Must Go On,” bittersweet because of its association with Mercury’s decline.
Pure fun took over for “Another One Bites the Dust.” Dolyniuk, reveling in that kitschy hit, shimmied as the violins played. “Stone Cold Crazy” ended the concert’s first half. The second half started with a rocking “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Ha, ha! You had to laugh watching the Philharmonic violinists, led by Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden and Assistant Concertmaster Ansgarius Aylward, playing away for that one. It’s not exactly a dignified number.
Other highlights included “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” with Dolyniuk playing guitar, and the power ballad “Too Much Love Will Kill You.” The concert ended with “We Will Rock You,” with the crowd standing up clapping, and “We are the Champions.”
It hurt to leave. Dolyniuk will be back in November to do the Mick Jagger thing, when the BPO pays tribute to the Rolling Stones.
He’ll have a tough time topping this show.