Review: Kerry Ellis and Brian May - Anthems, Festival Theatre

Kerry Ellis and Brian May - Anthems, ** Festival Theatre

Dr Brian May, CBE - to give the astrophysicist and sometime-Queen guitarist his full title - has lent his name to numerous projects over the years, all of which have drawn some influence from his formative years alongside John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury. May has been the standard bearer for Queen since Mercury's passing, and draws considerable goodwill from this ambassadorial role.

One suspects that it's this public affection that affords May the licence to embark upon projects like Anthems, a rock/musical collaboration with vocalist Kerry Ellis that is both breathtaking in scale and rather puzzling in purpose. Anthems looks fantastic, but a pretty light column and a busy smoke machine can't sufficiently distract from a fundamental question: what is Anthems for?

On the face of it, a cross-breed of Queen and musical theatre makes sense. Ben Elton's We Will Rock You sought to demonstrate the band's inimitable brand of widescreen melodrama; Anthems claims to be a showcase for Kerry Ellis and "that amazing voice of hers" (as May says on the flyer, and something that happens to be entirely true), but it feels more like another way to peddle Queen's Greatest Hits.

Anthems treads a fine line between wonderfully overblown fun and high-gloss hotel karaoke; the former exhibited on the brooding bombast of Dangerland, and the latter illustrated by an insipid rendition of Diamonds Are Forever. It's ironic that the evening's best moments are delivered by May himself. An acoustic version of Love Of My Life, which he dedicates to his mother, is done simply and executed beautifully, while the extended guitar solo beforehand is superlative.

While Ellis's talent is not in dispute, that she doesn't always fit in to proceedings is concerning. The flyer unwittingly reveals why: "I was convinced she was destined to be a worldwide star, the challenge was to develop songs to allow that amazing voice to reach its true potential."

Which, in laymen's terms, means adding some Queen songs and crossing your fingers. Less a case of musical theatre than A Night At The Opera, so to speak.