The show must go on? Just don't ask De Niro

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The Independent Culture

"Are you talkin' to me?" may be Robert De Niro's most famous line. But it's not a stance one would normally expect from someone fronting a press conference to promote a West End musical.

However, the star of Taxi Driver lived up to his image of being cool, slightly threatening and sparing of speech at the launch of a musical featuring the music of Queen.

De Niro is putting up some of his own cash for the £7.5m show We Will Rock You after Brian May and Roger Taylor from the band told him about the show at the Venice Film Festival six years ago. He enthused about the idea, apparently.

Perhaps he was more talkative then. Yesterday at a press conference at the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road he was asked to explain why he had become interested in the show and what it was that attracted him.

"I think it's going to be terrific. That's it."

What was his own favourite rock music?

"Don't ask me. I can't think."

Do you have a favourite Queen number?

"No."

"This is your first musical production. How does it differ from your film production work?"

"It's a musical."

It was a shame to interrupt such a study in monosyllabic charisma. But, as fortune would have it, De Niro, a man of few words, was seated next to Ben Elton, a man of many.

De Niro and Elton, with Queen's guitarist, May, and drummer, Taylor, were speaking about the show as they stood on the stage set, a decayed, crumbling version of Tottenham Court Road Tube station.

Elton, who has written the book for the musical, clearly does not share the superstitions of the theatre world about making predictions. His only concern seemed to be to make them as apocalyptic as possible.

"The audience has the right to expect something as fabulous and grand and theatrical as the music itself," he said.

"I had almost given up trying to find a story that could contain the incredible richness, wit and variety of Queen's greatest hits. Then the idea suddenly came to me while I was pushing the kids in the pram through Regent's Park."

Where De Niro never gives you as much information as you need, Elton is always happy to give you a little more than you need.

The show is due to open at the Dominionon 14 May. Initially there were plans to base it on the story of Queen, but May admitted that would have been "embarrassing" for the figures involved. "We just couldn't make it work," he said.

Instead Elton was drafted in and created a world which through globalisation has become homogenised and where musical instruments have been banned. But a group of rebels set out to find mythical electric guitars which have been set in stone many years earlier. "It's The Matrix meets the Arthurian legend meets Terminator 2," Elton said.

Robert De Niro almost nodded.

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