BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Bombay Dreams Comes to Broadway
By Elyse Sommer
And so, while Lizzie Loveridge was right on in her assessment of Bombay Dreams when she reviewed it almost two years ago, the show has prevailed at the Apollo Victoria though its announced June hardly matches the fifteen year tenure of Starlight Express at the same theater.
Now a revised and more American audience friendly production is ensconced at the erstwhile home to the long-lived Cats. This flavorful curry of spicy music, frenetic movement and kaleidoscopic scenery and costumes may well thumb its nose at the critics again. What's more, there's talk that the streamlining of the book by Thomas Meehan (the man whose doctoring greatly enhanced The Producers) has pleased Sir Lloyd-Webber enough to plan to give Londoners a chance to see this version of Bombay Dreams next fall.
The revision of the book is more a case of eliminating some of the gangster and jail-set subtext for a tighter focus on the story of the slum boy who attains his Bollywood stardom dream only to realize that happiness means being true to his roots. In a nutshell: A boy from the lowest rung on the Indian social ladder becomes a movie star to help stave off those who would tear down the humble slum home of his grandmother and friends. He falls in love with a rich Bollywood mogul's daughter and independ film director. Their romance is detoured by his affair with the reigning Bollywood movie queen who persuades him to reject his slum connections, and the director's engagement to a stuffy pretend do-good lawyer who turns out to be the villain of the piece. All except Queenie, his loyal eunuch friend live happily ever after.
The show is a basic replay of the Bombay version of early Hollywood extravaganzas that rely on scenic splendor rather than credible plots or characters is pretty much like the London production. That includes the show's super duper Wow! "Shakalaka Baby", the catchy tune that has the cast getting drenched by a fountain spurting streams of foamy water. As you can see from the song list (after the production notes) there's plenty of singing. The mostly ersatz ethnic music given a nice authentic beat by two percussionists in the front loges at each side of the stage.
Except for Ayesha Dharker, who also played the film star who touches the Untouchable hero with her magic wand to become her co-star and boy toy in London, the Broadway Bombay Dream has a brand-new cast. All thirty-eight prove that there are plenty of performers with the aerobic energy needed for Anthony van Laast and Farah Khan's repetitive but always propulsive choreography on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dharker reprises her sexy persona and Manu Narayan is a likeable if not matinee idol Akaash. Anisha Nagarajan gives an appealing performance as Priya, Akaash's true love and the movie director who wants to make more serious movies (her project starring Akaash and Rani not surprisingly titled Bombay Dreams). Madhur Jaffrey is endearing as grandmother Shanti who, as can happen only in a Bollywood story, has the grace and elegance more befitting a Brahmin than a lowly Untouchable. Sriram Ganesan effectively over-emotes the martyred man-into-woman Sweetie.
While Bombay Dreams is hardly likely to enter the pantheon of intellectually stimulating musicals, it's more likely to make the list of acceptable entertainment for the Republican Convention visitors than Assassins or Caroline, Or Change. It should also be a boon to New York's Indian restaurants which have in recent years been somewhat eclipsed by the popularity of Sushi.
---Review of the London Bombay Dreams
by Lizzie Loveridge
Long heralded is the exotic new musical Bombay Dreams produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on the stories of the Indian "Bollywood" film industry. Although the original idea is attributed to Lloyd Webber and Shekhar Kapur, the execution has been left to others.
The music is composed by "India's Mozart" A R Rahman, who has won many awards for his scores for Indian films; the lyrics by English lyricist Don Black whose credits extend from Sunset Boulevard to the words of the songs of some James Bond films. Meera Syal, comedian, novelist and British born actress of Indian parents, is responsible for the book.
So how did I find this cultural amalgam of eastern flavours and western musical? The first impression is the glorious tackiness of it all. The badly spaced choreography, either amateur or under rehearsed, making the participants look like an enthusiastic aerobics class. The singing can make Don Black's enjoyable lyrics almost inaudible in group numbers. Of course the opening slum setting with its poverty, thieves and beggars, one paraplegic "Eddie Murphy style" on skateboard, adds to the feeling of cheap but cheerful, grinning rather than grinding poverty. One is forced to ask what they have spent the $6.74 million on and what they have been doing for the three years of preparation?
The scenes which work best are those taken straight out of a Bollywood film rather than those set in the slum. I liked the extravagant, all dancing "Shakalaka Baby" and "Chaiyya, Chaiyya" one of which culminates in water fountains jetting up from the stage. Ayesha Dharker who plays Rani, the successful Bollywood actress shakes and belly dances like a real Bollywood film star and carries off the well endowed actress in wet sari scene to perfection. The procession for the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, spills over into the auditorium and almost conveys the excitement of Indian religious celebration and festivities. But despite the imposing and clichéd movie posters of the sets, Bombay Dreams does not come up with enough sequinned spectacle to offset the tawdriness of the show.
Similarily, A R Rahman's music seems to be Indian but sometimes tinkered with for the Western ear. It's pleasant enough and repetitive to be catchy but never satisfying, I suspect, to either culture. There are love ballads, including one sung by Sweetie, the Hijra or eunuch, "Love's Never Easy", and an interesting threesome ballad "Closer Than Ever" sung by Sweetie Akaash and Priya. The CD of the show is already available and radio exposure and subsequent hearings may improve the acceptability of the melodies.
The story will not win any Oscars. Slum boy Akaash (Raza Jaffrey) meets and falls in love with Priya (Preena Kalidas) rich daughter of Bollywood producer Madan Kumar (Dalip Tahil) who is under the Indian Mafia's thumb led by JK (Raad Rawl). Akaash becomes a film star but realises he values the people of the slum he has left behind more than his new film friends. Eunuch, Sweetie (Raj Ghatak) is murdered by Priya's financé and lawyer, Vikram (Ramon Tikaram) lest he/she exposes the plan to redevelop the slum quarter and make the slum dwellers homeless (think Bill Sikes and Nancy out of "Oliver"). Priya learns the truth at her weddng to Vikram which is aborted and Priya and Akaash live happily ever after.
I liked "hero" Raza Jaffrey's sexy, long legged, flare trousered, swaggering street thief who hits the big time with a starring role in numerous Bollywood movies and captures the heart of Preeya Kalidas' sweet princess and aspiring director of serious films, the kind that win awards in the West but do less box office in India. Raj Ghatak's blue saried Hirja Sweetie had lost his voice on the second night so while he played his part, his songs were mimed by another.
Steven Pimlott's direction could have been lighter, wittier and played up the tongue in cheek elements as no-one can really take the musical's love triangle seriously. The set for the prison, played on levels in silhouette, and the big digger sent to demolish the slum were a refreshing break from those either on the film set, the marriage dome or in the overcrowded slum. Bollywood directors produce prolific numbers of movies in a year, many of them badly acted, and with cheesy plots but they richly repay investors as audiences flock to see them. This is the gamble which Lloyd Webber has taken but I somehow doubt that Bombay Dreams will be around in London for very long, certainly not equalling the fifteen years of the bizarre roller skating musical, "Starlight Express" that it follows at the Apollo, Victoria.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.