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The Show Must Go On: The Queen & Adam Lambert Story
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For a multi-million selling classic rock band that could inspire a stadium full of sports fans to sing along with them, Queen always marched to the beat of their own orchestral percussion section. They could play anything from hard rock to disco funk to whatever the hell “Bohemian Rhapsody’ is (vocal chamber glam?) and were led by one of rock’s greatest lead singers, Freddie Mercury, a bisexual Parsi-Indian with a four-octave range and flamboyant stage presence. While Mercury’s 1991 death ended their creative heyday, they’ve improbably found new relevance in recent years by joining forces with American Idol veteran and solo star Adam Lambert and Bohemian Rhapsody, the 2018 biographical drama about Mercury and the band.
The 2019 documentary The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story recounts how Lambert joined the storied rockers and helped introduce their music to a new generation of fans. Filmed in the aftermath of Bohemian Rhapsody‘s critical and commercial success, it features interviews with actor Rami Malek, who played Mercury in the film, American Idol‘s Simon Cowell and the band members as they cover the major plot points in between Mercury’s death and their current revival, with plenty of performance footage along the way. It is currently available for streaming on Netflix.
Though much time is spent celebrating Mercury and his artistic contributions, little of Queen’s early history is covered. Instead, the tale begins with their legendary appearance at 1985’s Live Aid concert, the moment where they cemented their status as one of rock’s greatest artists. Unfortunately, Mercury would be diagnosed with AIDS within a year’s time. Much like his sexuality, he kept his health conditions secret, confirming his illness just 24 hours before his death at the age of 45 from bronchial pneumonia, a result of his compromised immune system.
While the members of Queen struggled with what to do with the rest of their lives, Lambert was growing up in Southern California. Born in 1982, his mother said he didn’t fit in until she enrolled him in a children’s theater group. He was a natural on stage and excelled as a singer. Lambert says the acclaim he received was “medicine” for the self-described “strange kid who was kind of ashamed of his body and in the closet.” He first heard Queen in the movie Wayne’s World, later digging out the original albums from his parents record collection. “I felt like there was some sort of kinship. I was just like, ‘This guy’s fearless’,” Lambert says about the singer whose shoes he would one day fill.
While Queen bassist John Deacon retired from the music business, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor kept the brand alive through various endeavors. In 2004, they teamed up with former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers, who they toured with on and off for the next 5 years. While another one of the best voices in rock, Rodgers’ soulful, bluesy vocals were only well-suited for the rock end of Queen’s catalog. “He was his own man,” Taylor respectfully says of Rodgers, and they amicably parted ways in 2009.
That same year, Lambert joined the singing competition show American Idol, memorably auditioning with an acapella version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Having made a career for himself as a professional theatrical singer, his ability to rock out made him stand out from the pack. Though he had been living as an out gay man, he was taken aback when his sexuality become a tabloid story. May and Taylor later joined Lambert and fellow finalist Kris Allen for a rousing “We Are The Champions.” Though Lambert ultimately lost the competition, it was all for the best as it allowed him personal and artistic freedom.
While Lambert’s had a respectable solo career, including hit singles and albums, hooking up with Queen in 2012 significantly increased his profile. His first full performance with the band was a live telecast in front of a crowd of 350,000 in Kiev. “I had no doubts he could do it,” says Taylor. May, meanwhile calls the singer over 30 years his junior, “A gift from God.” The feeling is mutual, Lambert saying he’s learned much from his collaborators musicianship and benefitted from the camaraderie.
While capably executed, The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story sheds little new light on the band but will surely please fans. Lambert would be the first to tell you he’s no Freddie Mercury, but he’s about the best replacement one could find, not only able to hit the notes but play the part and give the material the campy edge his forebear brought to the stage. Billed as “Queen + Adam Lambert,’ the group continues to tour with this year’s dates cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Benjamin H. Smith is a New York based writer, producer and musician.Follow him on Twitter:@BHSmithNYC.
Watch The Show Must Go On on Netflix