‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ meets the Milwaukee Symphony

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra teams up with an unlikely musical ally: Queen. Photo via themusicof.com

Freddie Mercury may no longer be with us, but his spirit will be ready to rock you at the Riverside this weekend. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will be performing with musicians from Windborne Productions in the company’s touring show, “The Music of Queen.”

“It’s a full-on rock concert with the added benefit of the symphony orchestra behind it,” lead singer Brody Dolyniuk said. “If you’re coming only expecting a rock band, you’re going to be in for a treat when you see the orchestra. If you’re coming only expecting an instrumental version by the orchestra, you’re going to be in for a full surprise when you hear the band amplified through the PA system.”

Brent Havens, the founder of Windborne Productions, started the company with the intention of working in film and music production. When the opportunity for a new kind of production arose, he was willing to take the company in an unprecedented direction.

“The idea came about in ’95,” Havens explained, “when a promoter in Virginia, along with an executive director of the Virginia Symphony, were looking to expand their audiences from the usual crowds that were coming to see their classical shows. One of the ideas tossed around was classic rock.”

Havens then began by transcribing and arranging Windborne’s first classic rock production, “The Music of Led Zeppelin.” The show featured a live rock band and vocalist, along with a full orchestra. Since the concert was the first of its kind, audiences were intrigued but confused.

“People didn’t know what to expect,” Havens said. “They didn’t know whether this was more of an orchestral concert where you politely clap or a rock concert with people dancing in the aisles and screaming. It soon became obvious it was a rock show with a full orchestra on stage, which gave it a whole different sense of power and a whole different color of sound.”

The show was a success, captivating fans of orchestral music and classic rock. In response, Havens wrote “The Music of Pink Floyd,” which premiered the following year.

Since then, he has arranged, conducted and toured with seven orchestral rock shows for Windborne, including “The Music of The Who,” “The Music of The Eagles” and “The Music of Michael Jackson.” He is also working on an eighth show, “The Music of The Rolling Stones,” due to premiere next summer. Of all his works, Haven said “The Music of Queen” is one of the most rewarding.

“There are bits and pieces of all of them that I really love, so it’s really hard to pick a favorite,” Havens said. “Obviously the (Led Zeppelin) show was one of our first and has a special place for us, but I really love the Queen show, too, because it’s harmonically rich and melodically rich, and it just fits so well with the orchestra.”

Dolyniuk joined the Windborne musicians three years ago. The singer got his start in music in Las Vegas, forming one of the city’s most successful rock bands, Yellow Brick Road. After performing with his band for 14 years, he auditioned for Windborne and joined “The Music of Queen.”

“My approach with this is definitely not to (do an) impression or an impersonation of Freddie Mercury,” Dolyniuk said. “I’m not dressing like him. I don’t put on a fake moustache and try to do his moves and mannerisms. But having grown up with the music and having sung along with it for so many years now, there’s a natural tendency for me to sing in the vein of Freddie Mercury’s style.”

Dolyniuk has enjoyed the “new level of respect” and overwhelming praise for his performances, especially since he has such a large role to live up to. Some of the songs are incredibly difficult to perform because of Mercury’s high quality vocal skills, but there is one that fits him the best.

“There’s no easy song in this show,” Dolyniuk said. “I don’t just walk out there and expect it to happen without some effort. But the one that I think I feel the most comfortable on is ‘Somebody to Love.’ It shows off all of the qualities of Freddie’s voice; it’s a real challenge for me; and it’s just such a good crowd pleaser.”

As for performing with the Milwaukee Symphony, Havens and Dolyniuk agree it is nothing short of a privilege.

“The Milwaukee Symphony is a world-class orchestra,” Havens said. “It’s always wonderful playing with them. The first time they see the music, it’ll be pretty much perfect.”

As one of the few productions of its kind, “The Music of Queen” will entertain audiences of all musical tastes, leaving fans asking, “Is this the real life?”

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