Dallas — If one of the bad guys looks somehow familiar when you see the rock musical We Will Rock You, it may be because this isn't his first Texas rodeo. P.J. Griffith, who plays bad guy Khashoggi in the show, also played bad boy Jett Rink when Dallas Theater Center presented Michael John LaChiusa's musical, Giant, in 2012 as it made its way to New York. We Will Rock You is the British hit musical in its 12th year in London's West End that's built around 24 of Queen's hit songs. The show's first U.S. tour, which began in October, makes its way to Dallas Summer Musicals and the Fair Park Music Hall March 4-16. Griffith took the time during his week off before heading to Dallas to talk about being a bad guy and air punching.
TheaterJones: American Idiot, Rent, Tommy...you have quite a history of rock musicals. What attracts you to them?
P.J. Griffith: Yes—I have the market cornered on the rock musical bad guys—Cousin Kevin, St. Jimmy, Roger. It's all about great songwriters and lyricists. I love rock—I'm a metalhead, Radiohead, Ozzy Osbourne. There is a certain theatricality to the storytelling that translates well to the stage. I've done workshops with bands and rock singers and songwriters. I just love when songwriters create characters that have an "over- the- topness" of being a human being.
So really what's missing from your resume is Rock of Ages?
It is so funny you say that because at one point our show was playing in a theater next to Rock of Ages, and it was a full-out, wear-torn-T-shirts, don't-wash-your-hair punk vs. heavy metal war between the casts.
How long have you been with the show?
Since rehearsals in September, then the start of the tour in Baltimore in October, so almost six months.
Who is your character in the show?
I play Khashoggi, who is this futuristic, silly villain. He is the commander of the secret police trying to crush the Bohemian revolution. And while he's the head of this military/corporation, he's secretly in love with what he's trying to crush. It's Javert meets Billy Idol. It is not Sondheim. The director [British comedian Ben Elton] is a silly dude, and he gave us the green light to just play. The show is almost a mock-up of Mamma Mia, but turned up to 11. The megamix at the end turns into a full-out rock concert. The audience just goes wild.
How has the show evolved since you began with it?
The show has changed a lot since the London production. The writer [again, Ben Elton] wanted to tailor it more to American audiences, so there are added jokes about twerking, Justin Beiber, Target—all uniquely American things. He did the same thing recently for shows in Mexico—we had a joke about a store that's like the Mexican K-Mart. Part of the process has been banging jokes off the wall and choosing what will stick and what will remain funny six or eight months down the road, like Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift, they'll probably always do stupid stuff. The show is a theatrical amoeba.
What is your favorite moment in the show?
It's probably at the end of Act I. That's when I get to do my really crazy stuff, like put the entire cast in a laser cage, then one of them breaks out, and it becomes an ogre battle. It's pretty funny. It's the silliest Act I finale in the history of theater, guaranteed.
What is your favorite Queen song?
It's "A Kind of Magic" from The Highlander soundtrack. It's a quirky, weird song that I get to sing with the Killer Queen. It's remixed in the show to be a sort of gospel ballad. I am a huge Queen fan!
What can audiences expect?
Expect a two-and-a-half-hour party . A good time. A loud, in-your-face party with silly jokes. The show never, ever takes itself too seriously. It's a fun night that's definitely worth having a couple of cocktails before. The show is full of unbelievable talent form the UK, Canada and New York—incredible voices.
Have you met any of the guys from Queen?
Yes! They are famous for popping up in random cities and picking up a guitar. Brian May played on opening night. We knew in advance that day because of sound check because he likes things really loud. The cast always knows when they're there because this is the kind of show when someone could actually die if there wasn't that prep work with a new person on stage.
Why do people like this show so much?
It introduces a new audience to the Queen catalog. Most of the fans coming into it don't know all of their music. There were a dozen hits that were huge in America, but on top of that, there are a dozen more people didn't know before. The incredible catalog of Queen is really lots of genres from bebop to country to operatic—it's really the whole musical gamut.
Is there head-banging for “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
There is a TON of head banging. And when in doubt, we punch the air. There is air punching in the thousands.
What was your experience like here in Dallas with Giant?
It was fantastic. Kevin Moriarty had just started, and it was his first big project. It was just this bombastic, super artsy experience that we then took to the Public Theater in New York. I played Jett Rink, who is really a more despicable character in the book than in the movie. The reception the show got was good, but I think people really wanted to see these iconic moments from the movie, and it went in a different direction. It was set in Texas, but it's really a story about greed and manipulation and relationships. The people in Dallas had more preconceived notions about it than they did in New York.