Freddie Mercury is in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven. This would not be breaking news in the real rock ‘n’ roll heaven, of course. Freddie has been harmonizing with the cherubim and seraphim on God’s celestial shore since 1991. But in the worldly version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, performed each year during Piccolo Spoleto, he’s newly cast for 2010.
Fabulous Freddie will be played by North Carolina-born Brandon Wardell, an actor who is no stranger to the production. He played John Denver back in the ’90s before moving on to New York and Los Angeles. Wardell has experience on and off Broadway, having appeared in shows like Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys musical), Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Evil Dead: The Musical.
Also newly represented onstage this year will be Louis Armstrong, Jeff Buckley, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, and Michael Jackson. It almost seems a bit early to add Jackson to the list (it is, after all, the first full year in which he’s been, uh, eligible for inclusion), but Gaye and Terrell are perfect choices — both for their undeniable talent and contributions to R&B and because of their shared star-crossed-lover story, replete with tragedy and early death.
Producer Sheri Grace Wenger promises even more debut appearances, but those won’t be revealed until the curtain rises.
Of course, no rocking roll call would be complete without Elvis Presley. Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison will be on hand to keep the party from becoming too staid and formal.
Wenger is especially excited about the seven-piece rock band (led by musical director Joe Giant) that will keep the retro real throughout the performances. For the choreography, a dancer with 1960s credibility, Linda Oltmann Walker, was selected.
“Linda was lead dancer and choreographer for The Villagers, a popular band in the mid-’60s,” Wenger says.
That’s a lot of special effort to get the vocals, music, and dance steps just right. But it will all be worth it, Wenger promises, as rock ‘n’ roll fans let the show take them on a walk down memory lane, grooving to the sights and sounds of long ago.