Beginning last week, this side of the world witnessed a vivid spectacle of India's majestic Bollywood aspirations sashaying under the pulsating gaze of stagecraft mavericks Andrew Lloyd Webber and AR Rehman.
The critically acclaimed and popularly enjoyed Broadway musical with innate Indian moorings, Bombay Dreams was staged at the formidable venue for plays, musical and movies, the Fox Theatre beginning August 8-13, 2006.
Bombay Dreams, whose credits are a long and winding run of some of the biggest names in the business, is one that has worked its creative magic slowly, steadily over time. For all its overt tell-tale brandishing of characteristic Bollywood stereotypes including struggling actors, ambitious actresses, languishing sweethearts, moneyed producers, and the inimitable slum backdrop, it remains strangely, a rarefied version of the hoopla we have begun to associate with India's most glamorous industry.
Add to that hearty dollops of scintillating costumes, lush music and opulent choreography and the result is a sumptuous, boisterous sonance of visual extravagance. But wait, Dreams is not all candy-floss float. With music by AR Rahman, lyrics by Don Black and script by Meera Syal, this Lloyd Webber production is a differential foray in the otherwise classical trajectory of Broadway plays as Cats, Chicago, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera etc. This is perhaps a reason why Time Magazine declared it 'gorgeously new'.
The play saw germination in an idea by famed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and was developed into a fledged out script by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan. Though the story per se is neither new nor unique, its interpretation on stage is singular. The show premiered in London's West End in 2002. It also enjoyed a run on Broadway from April 29, 2004 to January 1, 2005.
Directed by Steven Pimlott, with choreography by Anthony Van Laast and Farah Khan, it stars Raza Jaffrey, Preeya Kalidas, Ayesha Dharker, Raj Ghatak, Shelley King, Raad Rawi, Dalip Tahil, Ramon Tikaram amongst others. While the spectacle sees every cast member snatch a notch intermittently, it is Sriram Ganesan's turn as the lovable eunuch, Sweetie, which delivers the show's most endearing performance.
Bombay Dreams is in Atlanta courtesy Theater of the Stars, the resident theatre company at the Fox Theatre. Theater of the Stars, founded in 1953 is one of the oldest and most respected regional theaters in the States and has presented over 700 productions. The staging of the play under its auspices is yet another acknowledgement of the penetration of the Indian motif in the global cultural canvass.
The plot has myriad contrived strains of a typical 'filmi' story that follows the life, love, ambitions, travails and success of a wannabe actor from the slums of Mumbai. In a sense, the transformation of his life and dreams is the musical journey of the play. The musical score, in fact, continues to be the major draw for this play. Even as Rahman continues to hold the record of over 100 million album sales, this particular rendition of his wasn't too much of a success back home when we first heard it. Its hit single Shakalaka Baby and the remixed Chaiyya Chaiyya that were somewhat popular abroad remained duds in India for the most part.
On stage though, orchestrated through veils of energetic art-play that comprises an extremely talented troupe of dancers and singers lit up beautifully by the ritzy production design, Dreams' music becomes quite the character. Bombay Awakes, Slum Dwellers, Love's Never Easy are all quite in place, representing a rigorous fusion of East-in-the-West and becoming easy escapades that the audiences' memory lovingly lapses into, long after the last bow and applause.