Is this just fantasy?

Uncle Dad’s brings Queen to Laxson

Most of the cast of players for the production of Uncle Dad’s Art Collective’s <i>Queen: A Night at the Opera</i>.

Most of the cast of players for the production of Uncle Dad’s Art Collective’s Queen: A Night at the Opera.

Photo by Vincent Vanguard

Queen: A Night at the Opera, Saturday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m., at Laxson Auditorium.
Sold out. Call for no-show waiting list.
Laxson Auditorium
Chico State

Uncle Dad’s Art Collective has a reputation in Chico for taking on large-scale productions. Over the past couple of years, the company of local performing artists has put on shows honoring and adapting the work of such musical giants as Michael Jackson, Prince and Led Zeppelin—to very positive reviews. And the group’s next challenge—teaming up with Chico State’s Chico Performances and Associated Students Productions to tackle Queen’s signature album, A Night at the Opera (you know, the one with “Bohemian Rhapsody”)—is easily its most ambitious.

But this will not be a mere tribute show that tries to mimic every Brian May guitar lick and squeeze into some leather pants for a Freddie Mercury impersonation. “This isn’t a Queen cover show; it’s an arrangement show,” said Joshua Hegg, managing director of Uncle Dad’s and pianist/keyboardist for its orchestra. “It’s paying tribute to the spirit of Queen and what they stood for—which is thoughtful, progressive, lush music—but our own way.”

Hegg said the production is a multidiscipline reimagining of A Night at the Opera (as well as a few other fan-favorite Queen tunes), with dancers and acrobats (Everybody in Outer Space troupe and Chico Acro) performing alongside different local musicians and theater performers who were carefully paired with, and will join the Uncle Dad’s Orchestra for, their respective songs. And the list of featured musicians is as impressive as it is eclectic: local bluesman Big Mo, pop-rock faves Surrogate, Hegg’s jazz combo Bogg, plus Evin Wolverton, Ashley Garlick, Matt Hammons, Solar Estates and more.

One of the driving principles behind the collective’s productions has been to showcase local artists and introduce audiences to a sampling of the robust local music scene. People who haven’t had a chance to catch many shows or listen to the many self-released local albums will have the opportunity to enjoy a big slice of Chico music in one sitting.

It’s also showcasing a hefty orchestra that’s been handpicked to tackle Queen’s challenging harmonies and intricate arrangements and creatively interpret the source material. The orchestra includes a five-piece rhythm section, four horns, four vocalists and four strings that will back up featured artists and take the reins on some songs.

A year in the making, the Queen show was actually pushed back as the collective gained some much-needed experience working on other productions—including an impressive evening of locally sourced music at the Small Town, Big Sound show at the Sierra Nevada Big Room last July. Hegg said he now feels confident that Uncle Dad’s can do a Queen show justice.

“Two years ago, if you told me we’d be doing this kind of show—with so many musicians and choirs and strings and horns and dancers as part of this huge two-hour production—I would’ve failed,” Hegg said. “It takes a lot of artistic honesty to say ‘we’re not ready for this.’”

It’s a heavy weight to take on, paying tribute to such an iconic work, especially when attempting to veer from the original and make something new that still respects the source. Hegg said that the collective uses that sense of responsibility to make sure the production is of a quality that honors both Queen and the artistry of the collective.

“You have to believe that this group, this production, the arrangements, the musicians, the performances are great enough to be in the same caliber,” Hegg said. “We spent a long time beefing the quality up so that it’s a world-class Chico event that’s really cool and special.”