RADIO GAGA at the Adelphi Theatre
“Mark Sanders, in the mantle of Freddie Mercury, knows how to get the audience on his side”
The test of a tribute act is to close your eyes and see if, in your head, it’s the real thing. I don’t get this from “Radio Gaga”. There’s something missing.
I miss the exquisite power and the soaring fragility of Freddie Mercury’s inimitable voice. I miss Freddie’s virtuosity at the piano. I miss the tear-wringing poignancy of the ballads. I miss Bowie’s contribution to the familiar and famous duet, ‘Under Pressure’. I miss the falsetto, the mastery of his stagecraft. His personality.
I’m missing a lot. But (and it is a big ‘but’) I’m missing the point. The crammed audience that fills the West End auditorium have no such qualms. I’m beginning to feel like a killjoy. A nit-picking one at that. I need to shed the grand, proscenium-arched sensibilities, and reimagine the context. To join in with the hand waving, the swaying, and the handclapping. To give an animated response to the repeated questions from the lead singer concerning our health (yes – I am feeling good… how many times?). There are an awful lot of call and response ‘yeah-yeahs’, that by the third number in we are beginning to feel “Under Pressure” to have a good time.
Which is, essentially, what this show is all about. The hits are all there, proficiently performed. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ comes fairly early on in the proceedings, but already the crowd have no inclination to anyway. Mark Sanders, in the mantle of Freddie Mercury, knows how to get the audience on his side. It didn’t matter that the entire set list needed to be transposed quite a few semitones for Sanders’ voice (okay – a little bit of a white lie. It mattered to me but, as I’ve said, I’m the stick-in-the-mud exception here). When the guys on stage are enjoying themselves, inevitably the groundlings will too. I was up in the Gods, but closer up I guess we could have seen the tongue in Sanders’ cheek. There are no pretentions. After introducing the band, he turned on himself in a lovely moment of irony by referencing his uncanny resemblance to Basil Fawlty.
The band are tremendous, though inevitably more generic and lacking the individualism of the original (here we go – nit-picking again). Richard Ashford, in Brian May’s shoes (white trainers obviously) gave his fretboard a run for its money. Perhaps May has copyrighted his specific sound and Ashford isn’t allowed to replicate it too closely, but the technique is still a close match. Throughout, Sanders seemed to be signalling to the sound crew to up Ashford’s sound level, and that of keyboard player Ben Parkinson; whose flourishes were often missed.
Completing the line up are Michael “Roger Taylor” Richards on drums and Jon “John Deacon” Caulton on bass: the backbone driving the hits that roll out. ‘Somebody to Love’, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Seven Seas of Rye’, ‘I Want to Break Free’ (complete with vacuum cleaner and comic drag), ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘The Show Must Go On’… you name it. And a few lesser-known numbers as well. Of course, the climax is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which unfortunately showcased Sanders’ vocal limitations. He let the audience do most of the work. But, again, I seem to be the only one who cares. The band wandered off mid song (not even Queen attempted this live, so fair do’s) to let the operatic section play out on a backing track. They returned to launch back into the finale, albeit on the (very) offbeat.
‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ comprised the encore. During the latter, Sanders dons a crown. The audience’s unanimous verdict is that he has earned it. Freddie Mercury was once asked how he would like to be remembered. ‘You can do what you want with my music’ he said, ‘but don’t make it boring. “Radio GaGa” must have listened.
RADIO GAGA at the Adelphi Theatre
Reviewed on 14th November 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Pawel Spolnicki
Previously reviewed at this venue: