“We Will Rock You” at MGM National Harbor

by Eric Althoff

Photo: Randy Feere

Like many folks of his generation, it was “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” appearance in 1992’s Wayne’s World that first exposed singer Kyle Gruninger to the music of Queen. “I’m also from Canada, so ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ have been staples of my life since the age of one,” thanks to the Great White North’s obsessive hockey culture, Gruninger said. 

Gruninger fronts a metal band called Incura and grew up on the music of Korn and Slipknot as well as that of the Canadian band Our Lady Peace. He said his love affair with Freddie Mercury and Co. was sealed when, on a roadtrip with friends, they put on the album A Night at the Opera.

“By the end of that, I was the biggest Queen fan ever,” Gruninger said. “I got obsessed and learned to sing [the whole album]. I was about 18 or 19 at the time.”

Photo: Randy Feere

Gruninger is now part of the touring cast of We Will Rock You, the jukebox Queen musical that will come to the MGM National Harbor Nov. 12 for one performance only. The plot revolves around a group of Bohemians who, in a dystopian future, aim to restore free thought to a conformist society. Gruninger portrays Commander Khashoggi, the vile leader of the “Ga Ga Cops” who is eventually exposed to the music himself—and perhaps changes in the process. 

“It’s a strange story of trying to bring back real music to the Bohemians after ‘Killer Queen’ and Khashoggi have made it illegal,” Gruninger said, adding that most audiences are at least familiar with Queen’s songs, whose entrys in the show include “Killer Queen,” “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” 

Photo: Randy Feere

“So they come in knowing the musical, some just know the music, and there’s some who come in having no idea what they’re about to experience,” Gruninger said. “And you can usually tell which one is which.”

Gruninger first got wind of auditions for We Will Rock You when he was working as a singer on a cruise ship out of Florida. He had several auditions, then hit the road again with his band. Eventually, word arrived that he had been cast for the tour.

We Will Rock You requires a great deal of vocal acrobatics, requiring Gruninger to take care of his “instrument” to bring the high notes night after night. He says he tries to stay hydrated and get enough sleep to maintain both his voice and his stamina. 

“When those things start to affect me, that’s when the voice starts to go,” he said. “Other than that, I can be pretty misbehaved.”

Photo: Randy Feere

When asked what advice he might give to aspiring musicians, Gruninger half-jokingly says, “Get out now!” before letting out a rather raucous laugh. “I like to tell people that it’s all about your goals and what you’re willing to sacrifice,” he said more seriously.  “Success is in the eye of the beholder—whatever you want it to be.  And it does happen if you want it to. 

“You can write music; it doesn’t mean people are going to buy it. I do really try and push ‘it’s a dream and it’s wonderful,’ but it is a lot of hard work and there is a lot of sacrifice.”

On that front, much like his life singing for Incura, We Will Rock You keeps Gruninger on the road for months at a time. He is married to a teacher, whom he insists understands the demands of his career. 

“I’m on the road; that’s how I make my money. She’s a schoolteacher; that’s how she makes hers,” he said, adding that he and his wife have a stable and healthy relationship despite the frequent time apart. “When I’m on my time off, we spend time together she’ll fly to New York or Vegas when [the show is] there.  It actually isn’t as difficult as people think it would be.”

Photo: Randy Feere

All the same, Gruninger wasn’t married until he was over 30 and sees his spouse only occasionally. He says he has few close friends, and most of his meals are eaten in a tour bus or on a cruise ship far from land. 

“If you don’t want to live in the back of a tour bus and eat catered food, don’t,” he said. “Some people just like to play guitar and sing in their local pub. That’s amazing if you can get all the creative juices out by doing that.”

When not touring with the Queen musical or Incura, Gruninger says he enjoys a quiet life in the small hamlet of Coalhurst, Alberta—population 1,200—where his wife teaches.  There he enjoys the prairies and “big skies” as well as the breathtaking mountainscapes of Banff but two hours away.

“Home is where the heart is,” he said. “That can be kind of a home-ish area for me.”

Photo: Randy Feere

Gruninger says every evening’s audience for We Will Rock You brings with it a certain energy that is unique to their city. But a commonality is that, as the show nears its conclusion, the singer/actor can look out in the audience and smile at multiple generations of the same family rocking out to the music of Queen and singing along. 

“You see a kid age 11 wearing a Queen T-shirt, smiling and giving you ‘the horns,’ and then beside him is his dad in a Queen T-shirt that he got at a concert in 1975 that still has a beer stain on it,” Gruninger said. “And that is the most special moment.”

To WIN a pair of tickets to the Nov. 12 performance of We Will Rock You at the MGM National Harbor, just sign up for the Alchemical Records email list (CLICK HERE). If you’re already a subscriber, you are automatically entered. The drawing will take place later on Monday.

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Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his fiancee, Victoria.

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