NEW HAVEN >> There’s a lot going on the last weekend of April — from the Cherry Blossom and Daffodil festivals to comedy stars Don Rickles and Paula Poundstone at the casinos — but the most tuneful stage production is at the Shubert Theater in the touring musical “We Will Rock You.” And a Connecticut guy will be in the middle of it.
P.J. Griffith of suburban South Windsor plays a villainous operative in the show, which was originally created a dozen years ago by British comedian and writer Ben Elton (“Mr. Bean”) with the musical supervision of surviving members of the rock group Queen, Brian May and Roger Taylor.
It was originally panned by British reviewers, but on the strength of its great Queen songs (“Another One Bites The Dust,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “We Are The Champions,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”), it became a long-running hit anyway in West London and eventually 17 countries.
“I play Khashoggi,” said Griffith in a phone interview last week. “I help run the Globalsoft Corp., and we basically have crushed all real music and individual thought on the iPlanet, this dystopian, Orwellian setup … And this kid (Galileo Figaro) basically breaks free of the system and starts a revolution that (revives) rock ’n’ roll.”
There are 24 of Queen’s hits shoehorned into the setting of this future Earth controlled by a mighty corporation where individuality is taboo and music is generated by proprietary computers.
The U.S. tour, updated by Elton for audiences here with topical pop-cultural references such as reality TV and twerking, began in October and continues until August, Griffith said. For this spring weekend, it is five spirited shows in New Haven from Friday through Sunday.
“I’m really excited to be doing this in Connecticut,” Griffith said, “because … this is the closest we’ve been to home, by a landslide.”
Elton, in a release, said of the changes from the London show, “There is a scene where our two leads run away and discuss their loneliness and isolation. In 2013, it seemed ridiculous for two kids to discuss friendship without reference to Facebook. Young people now live in a world where it’s possible to have many virtual ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ and yet still be entirely isolated and alone. The new dialogue with this changed emphasis brought the song ‘You’re My Best Friend’ into the show.”
Son of Phil and Gail Griffith of South Windsor, P.J. Griffith said with pride that he has a lot of family from South Windsor to Wethersfield and “half of Hartford County is coming to this show at the Shubert.”
Just don’t expect a lot of plot or a quiet evening.
“The show is nuts,” said Griffith, on his way from New York to Providence, R.I., via Amtrak for the show’s run there. “It’s not like a normal musical. It’s kind of like a 2½-hour party/rock concert. Audiences go crazy, especially in the last half-hour of the show when a lot of the big Queen hits come out and the fourth wall kind of breaks down and people are screaming at the stage.”
Griffith, 33, did theater “in a fantastic, fantastic drama program” at South Windsor High School and recalls visits to southern Connecticut to attend shows at Oakdale in Wallingford and the very theater where he will perform professionally Friday, the Shubert. He went on to NYU to study acting and at 22 was cast in a touring production of “Mamma Mia!”
Since then, he has appeared in a few TV shows (as a suspect in “Without a Trace” and a soon-to-be-reprised role of a motorcyle-riding pastor in “The Good Wife”), had a brief on-screen role as a sniper in the movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” played in the rock band Blue Movie and done musical theater (“American Idiot” on Broadway, “Giant” in Dallas and “Rent” in Los Angeles).
The bad-boy roles, sometimes in dark eyeliner, seem to suit him just fine.
“I’ve played a lot of rock villains … on Broadway and off-Broadway and just kind of carved a niche out for playing a lot of (such) villains,” he said. “This is a really funny one; I’ve got some really funny over-the-top moments in this. I put Bohemians in laser cages and drain their brains, but I’m secretly, beneath it all, in love with rock ’n’ roll.”
He chuckles thinking about the night before (between tour stops), when he and his wife attended a New York performance of the opera “La Boheme” at the Met.
“And we’re like, ‘Wow, our show is definitely not ‘La Boheme’ on any level whatsoever.’”
Then again, you could draw a line from the bohemians in “La Boheme” to those in “Rent” to the futuristic bohemians in “We Will Rock You.”
“I LOVE the bombastic rock ’n’ roll, the prog-rock stuff … early metal,” he said. And he could also relate to the “over-the-top” operatic moments, too: “The performers were unbelievable last night; it was a mind-blowing performance.”
Griffith gets to say (and yell) a lot during the show, and sings a couple of the lesser-known Queen songs, “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “It’s a Kind of Magic,” which was heard in the movie “Highlander.”
The cast includes Brian Justin Crum as Galileo, Ruby Lewis as Galileo’s sarcastic love interest Scaramouche and Jacqueline Arnold as Killer Queen.
Show times are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. It is sponsored by Bank of America, New Haven Register and News 8-WTNH. Tickets ($15-$118) are available at shubert.com, 203-562-5666 and at the Shubert Box Office, 247 College St., New Haven.
Sunday evening’s finale will also be the last musical notes to grace the Shubert stage until it reopens after renovations in late fall. This season would generally be wrapping up anyway in May, but the touring show will lead to construction work soon for the venerable theater approaching its 100th birthday, officials said.
IF YOU GO
Event: “We Will Rock You”
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Shubert Theater, 247 College St., New Haven
Info: shubert.com, 203-562-5666Tags: concert, movie, music, release, tour, tv