A killer, Queen
It's a kind of magic being in this musical, writes Natasha Rogai
'Ga-ga-GAH, Ga-ga-GAH! That's a language that transcends every culture. It's neanderthal - it's a battle cry.'
Miguel 'MiG' Ayesa is demonstrating the rhythmic opening to the title song of We Will Rock You, in which he stars in Hong Kong next month. 'By the end of the show every single audience in every single country is always the same, they're all up on their feet and screaming for more,' he says.
We Will Rock You is a collaboration between Brian May and Roger Taylor of rock band Queen and writer/director Ben Elton. The show, which features more than 26 of the group's hits including Bohemian Rhapsody, We are the Champions and Another One Bites the Dust, has been running in London since 2002 and been performed all over the world. Hong Kong is part of an Asia-Pacific tour that includes New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore.
Ayesa, 38, played the lead role for two years in London. 'When I started doing it I realised, 'This is the greatest job I've ever had'. Every single night I do the show I feel like I'm doing it for the first time.'
The show is set in a future world ruled by a company called Globalsoft. 'People are not allowed to make music for themselves, or think for themselves. It's a very sanitised, boring world and their only friends are their Facebook friends,' says the singer.
Ayesa plays Galileo, who receives psychic messages from musical heroes of the past and joins a group of rebels called the Bohemians to defeat the evil Company and set the world free through rock'n'roll. He loves the message behind the show: 'It's a very good moral ... you need to fight all the people who tell you you must not be yourself.'
Although the piece of 'rock theatre' pays tribute to Queen's music, Ayesa says it appeals to more than just the band's fans. 'You have old fans, new fans, grandparents who love it because it's funny, it's exciting and there are some very touching moments as well.'
Featuring a cast of 30, We Will Rock You is a spectacle of lasers, pyrotechnics and video. 'And the sound - this is probably the loudest show you will ever see on stage. I don't call it a musical, it's more like a rock concert set on stage.'
Born in the Philippines, Ayesa's family migrated to Australia when he was two years old; he grew up in Sydney. He played in bands and dreamed of being a rock star but got into musical theatre in high school 'as a way to meet girls'.
At 19, he broke off his studies to play Ritchie Valens in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in Sydney, then London. He also tried to break into the record industry, with little luck. In the end he decided his pursuit of a career in pop music would only make him miserable, but 'musical theatre is something I love doing and it loves me, so let's go with it'.
There followed a string of big shows including Rent, Grease and Fame, on the last of which Ayesa met his wife, dancer Simone De La Rue.
Ayesa was appearing in the West End production of Rent in 2002 when May asked him to audition for We Will Rock You. He says his two years as Galileo was 'the most magical time of my life, I loved it.
I bought a house, we were settled. I thought, 'life cannot get any better than this'.'
But the lure of rock stardom remained strong and Ayesa left the show to take part in Rock Star INXS, the 2005 reality TV series in which Australian band INXS set out to choose a new singer among 15 contestants picked from 20,000 applicants. Ayesa came third. 'By the end of the show I was a nervous wreck. I didn't think I could sing, I questioned everything that I was, everything that I did.'
Many viewers thought Ayesa's sunny personality and unfailing niceness were not rock star material. Meeting him, 'nice' seems a fitting adjective but asked if he has a portrait in his attic growing old and ugly, Ayesa roars with laughter. He says May is 'the ultimate rock star, and one of the nicest guys in the world. So the people who say I'm too nice for rock'n'roll can go f*** themselves!'
Ayesa is thankful for the doors reality TV opened, bringing him a devoted fanbase and his dream of a recording contract. His first album, MiG, will be released in Hong Kong to coincide with the run of We Will Rock You. Now based in New York, he hopes to continue his recording and theatrical careers in tandem but never plans anything ahead 'because a sure way of making God laugh is to tell him your plans'.
For now he is looking forward to rocking Hong Kong with the show. 'It's the joy of singing these songs which are probably some of the greatest rock songs ever written,' says Ayesa, who has performed here in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber (1996) and Fame (2002).
'And you see the transition in some of the songs from being bombastic and flamboyant to being so heartfelt and sincere. You really see the audience go, 'Oh!' it's so unexpected, so that's really great and I hope Hong Kong audiences will respond in the same way.'
We Will Rock You, Tue-Sat, 8pm; Sat, 2pm; Sun, 1pm and 7pm, Lyric Theatre, Academy for Performing Arts, Wan Chai, $350-HK$795. Tel: 3128 8288. From May 16