After much anticipation the new musical, Bombay Dreams has finally opened at the Apollo Victoria, the theatre that became famous for its staging of the smash hit musical Starlight Express which finished its 18 year run earlier this year. So is Bombay Dreams going to be the next big musical event hosted at the Apollo Victoria? Unfortunately, I think not.
Bollywood may be alive and well on film but this attempt by Andrew Lloyd Webber to bring its musical genre to the London stage seemed more like Follywood. I was left wondering why it failed to impress considering it has music by AR Rahman, the "Asian Mozart", India's most loved composer who writes around a dozen film scores a year, and has won every Indian musical award imaginable for his film compositions. The script is written by the comedy actress and author Meera Syal, and the choreography is by Anthony Van Laast, who has choreographed some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's big musicals, such as" Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Joseph".
The story of this Bollywood melodramatic romance, where the rich daughter of a successful film director falls for the charms of a cheeky slum boy who believes he was born to be seen on the silver screen, never quite discharges the romantic passion one hopes for. Because of this lack of passion the whole story seems too histrionic, even for a Bollywood musical.
We are introduced at the beginning of the play to some promising characters such as Salim, the Muslim father who turns a deaf ear to the ingratiating pleas of his daughter Munni, an audacious pickpocket. Shanti Ji, the saintly old woman that is the respected matriarchal mother to the slum dwellers, and Cricketer, so named because he has had both his legs amputated and so is always on his "stumps". This lively group of characters could easily have been developed within the story instead of merely being used as a backdrop for the hero Akaash. However, Sweetie, a eunuch slum dweller, is used more and to great affect.
Raza Jeffrey gives a good performance as Akaash even though he faltered on his first song "Like an Eagle", but this must have been due to stage fright, as his voice and performance improved from then on, and he sang his last solo "The Journey Home", impeccably. His character Akaash overflows with charming pluck, mettle and self-confidence.
Preeya Kalidas, who plays Priya, the girl of Akaash's dreams, has a difficult character to play. Priya is the serious daughter of a great Bollywood director of romantic comedies who is appalled at his frivolousness and longs to make documentary movies about Bombay's corrupt tycoons. Even so, I still found her performance disappointing, though she can certainly sing and dance.
Three performances stand out above the rest. Kitty, played by Shelley King, is magnificent as the embittered failing film critique/ presenter. We watch her decline from TV, to Cable and finally to a journalist writing articles for a dot COM company. Her contempt for the movie scene and her bitter sweet jibes as she interviews the great and the famous, grows with each of her occupational downturns. Madan, played by Dalip Tahil, film director and father to the heroine, is equally amusing and also brings an endearing quality to the role. His is the one character I genuinely felt affection for. Sweetie, played by Raj Ghatak, is excellent as the gutsy slum eunuch with the hots for Akaash. These three saved the show for me, and brought some much needed humour to this rather humourless script.
So why did Bombay dreams fail to impress? The music was not particularly memorable, with the exception of 'Shakalaka Baby' and 'Chaiyya Chaiyya'. Meera Syal, comedy scriptwriter to the successful British comedy show "Goodness Gracious Me", seemed to have forgotten to include the comedy and romance, and Anthony Van Laast's choreography is unimpressionable. Fortunately, Farah Khan who choreographed the Bollywood dance sequences assisted him. She brought some great routines to the show and much needed energy and verve.
An enjoyable show, but one that lacks the delight of Bollywood!
Next review by Tom Keatinge
In recent years, things Indian, and especially anything associated with Bollywood, have hit the big time in fashion, in film, and now on stage. It is easy to see why, after two and a half hours of Bombay Dreams. Upbeat, feelgood, lively and tuneful, directed by Steven Pimlott, the show at the Apollo Victoria has everything you would want for a terrific night out at the theatre.
Meera Syal's book is straight-forward enough, and whilst rather farfetched, provides a suitable vehicle for a string of musical hits from the legendary AR Rahman.
Akaash (Raza Jaffrey), a lad from the Mumbai slums, has aspirations of stardom based on his fantasy love for Rani (Ayesha Dharker) the glamorous Bollywood heroine of the day. By unlikely good fortune, he gets his chance to meet her, and better still, perform in front of her and a live TV audience at a beauty contest she is presenting (I told you the plot is farfetched). This exhibition inevitably leads to him being plucked from obscurity by Madan (Dalip Tahil), a leading movie mogul, who happens to have a beautiful and highly principled daughter, Priya (Preeya Kalidas), with whom Akaash falls in love. But all is not so sugar-coated. Whilst Akaash is pursuing his dream of movie stardom, he shuns the suffering of his family and friends in the slums that are being readied for the bulldozers, to make way for the latest property development of the unscrupulous mogul JK (Raad Rawi) who will stop at nothing to get his way, including bribery of the very lawyer who is supposed to be championing the cause of the slum dwellers, who just happens to be engaged to the beautiful Priya. Throw in murder, double-crossing, a few eunuchs and misplaced love, and you have all the ingredients needed for a thoroughly enjoyable flight of fantasy, with an appropriate Bollywood ending.
Mark Thompson's set and Anthony van Laast and Farah Khan's choreography are marvellous, with the stage almost permanently filled with whirling and colourful dancers. But it is, of course, the music that truly brings the show to life. From the opening number, via a couple of moving love songs (Only Love and Closer Than Ever) and some great production numbers, including the infectious Shakalaka Baby and Chaiyya Chaiyya, the show is chock-a-block with memorable tunes. Are they too westernised, too commercial, as some have lamented? I have no idea, and don't particularly care - for me, it is just a terrific relief to enjoy a musical for a change, and leave at the end of Steven Pimlott's production with a tune (or three) in my head, instead of feeling worn down by monotony and dirge.
What other critics had to say.....
DARREN DALGLISH says, "A big disappointment as I expected more humour and more Bollywood energy, instead we have a musical that fails to hit the high notes." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Gooey Bombay mix that fails to fulfil its promise." MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, "A real Bombay dazzler ." RICHARD MORRISON for THE TIMES says, "To turn this mishmash into a hot ticket is going to take more than a spoonful of curry powder." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD "It's a bold, inventive shot at something new that misses the target. " CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Though there is much to admire in Bombay Dreams - notably Rahman's wonderfully fresh, exciting and sometimes yearningly romantic score...there is much more that disappoints." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, " Pimlott brings off some non-narrative musical passages beautifully." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "...clumsy, over-plotted book." And goes on to say, "The acting honours are stolen by .... Raad Rawi as the white-coated Mafia boss and Shelley King as an astringent gossip colum nist." JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "Bombay Dreams is a spectacular tribute to Bollywood, though it can't escape that genre's limitations."
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