I saw this advertised at MPAC a few months ago. I was really intrigued by it and thought that it might be fun for all four of us to go. Going in, I had literally no idea what to expect. I imagined we see some fun dancing, some extravagant costumes and some exotic music.
I didn’t even know that there would be a story. I just assumed it would be 2 hours of fun Indian entertainment. So imagine our surprise to get there and discover that there was not only a story, but a very funny one at that.
And all four of us really enjoyed the show a lot–even Clark! The music was outstanding–super up-tempo and fun. And the dancing was magnificent–the energy, the costumes, the special effects–what more could you want.
The plot is fairly straightforward.
Shankar is a struggling musician. He is called on by a local Bollywood producer to put some music to a terrible Bollywood film. But Shankar sees this as his big break and he intends to create the best music he can. He hopes to emulate A.R. Rahman, who wrote the hugely successful score for Slumdog Millionaire. And the story follows his attempts to write music for this movie.
Along the way, the musical shows us the “scenes” from the movie as Shankar composes the music for them. I totally cracked up at how the musicians disparage the movie as it is going along–the plot is thin and eventually nonsensical and, most amusingly, they point out how many of the Bollywood clichés the movie is employing. Obviously if you know Bollywood movies this will be especially funny, but if you don’t, the context is ample for you to be amused by the jokes.
The “movie” plot involves a Bollywood actress who is saved (in the rain, of course) by a young man who is helping the poor of Mumbai to learn how to dance (or something). About half way through the first Act, a phone rings and it is the director of the movie (Mr Pakora) saying that Shankar’s music is terrible–he should just try to rip off other movies scores. Plus, he wants Shankar to write a score for the villain, even though there had been no villain up till then. So the villain is added, and he tries to cause trouble–with a great dance fight not unlike something in West Side Story. Eventually the actress and the dancer flee Mumbai and take the Taj Express to southern India, where a happy ending awaits them.
So, dopey “movie,” but the music is so fun and exciting. I mentioned to Sarah that not having any idea what they were singing about (it’s all sung in Hindi, I assume) somehow made the dancing more exciting. Each scene was set up by the composer so we knew the “plot,” but since the singing was just voices, we didn’t have to think about whatever words would have been thrown on top–it was just passion and excitement. And, there were a lot of special effects too! Behind the dancers was a large screen on which was projected all kind of cool effects. Designs and scenes–a great sequence where it was raining, and a lot more. It never overshadowed the story, but it did make for an exciting backdrop.
Also, according to the guitarist (Flash–cousin to Slash, of course), who broke the fourth wall to talk to the audience, this was the first live Bollywood production that used lived musicians. I have no idea if that’s true, but I have to assume it is. There were three musicians–Flash on guitar, a flautist and a drummer named Animal. And they took to the stage from time to time and also played behind a screen. Flash was the comic relief for sure.
I had to wonder if Flash’s talking to the audience was new for the American run. There are certainly jokes that would only work in America. There were a couple of Trump/Clinton jokes, but my favorite was when Flash bowed to us and said Namaste–if I don’t say Namaste you’ll think we’re all Mexican. He also taught us how to mediate through some transcendental meditation –“om”–I loved that a deep “om” was then later used in a song.
And again, the music was great. I would have gotten a soundtrack if there was one. Lots of drums and energy and many different styles thrown in as well. It was a very modern soundtrack, with very little in the way of traditional Indian music–they probably could have used some more, although maybe that’s contemporary Indian music. I enjoyed nearly every musical piece, although one of my favorites was the one where they were on the train and it seemed like maybe they were sampling music from all of the States as they went South. Or maybe it wasn’t that at all, but I still liked the music!
The dancing was also wonderful. There were some traditional style dances–five or six men and women doing the same thing–and some contemporary moves as well–some break dancing and other floor spinning. There was even a moment during the “fight” dance sequence where they moved in slow motion–that was very cool. There were romantic dances and cool acrobatic ones. I loved when the dancers came out in black capes which they flipped over to reveal blue capes and then red capes. And the women’s costumes –traditional and contemporary were gorgeous.
The men were incredibly energetic and bouncy–clearly everyone was in great shape in order to do this show. There’s even a funny moment where the main good guy is wearing a leather vest and nothing else and he keeps walking up to the front of the stage and drawing attention to his totally ripped body–to squeals from the audience.
So there was a lot of humor, dazzling costumes, and some cool music.
I’ve since read some reviews where it sounds like the American production is dialed back for American audiences. I have no idea if that’s true and I don’t really care. The show was a lot of fun and my whole family liked it (Clark also loved his sushi burrito at Inspiration Roll).
It even makes me want to watch another Bollywood film. Maybe.
Incidentally, this musical was Produced, Directed & Choreographed by The Merchants, Vaibhavi & Shruti, belonging to one of the dynastic families who have been in the Bollywood Film Industry for decades, the production is also the first Original Indian Musical to have successfully completed 5 years of International Touring.