Friday, March 24, 2006

Bombay Dreams (Playhouse Square Center)

‘BOMBAY DREAMS’ doesn’t get standing ovation at the Palace

In 2002, when ‘BOMBAY DREAMS,’ now on stage at Playhouse Square’s Palace Theatre, opened in London it became a cult hit. It ran until June of 2004. Many felt the reason for the success was the large Indian population in England, who frequented the show. When it opened on Broadway in 2004, the show was met with less enthusiasm. It ran for only 284 performances. One review stated, “If you're suffering from a ravenous hunger for rich, intelligent musical theatre, you're unlikely to be satiated by ‘BOMBAY DREAMS’.”

That, and similar reviews not withstanding, one might anticipate that a show produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with a score by A. R. Rahman and Don Black, and a book by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan, which was based on an idea by Shekhar Kapur and Lloyd Webber, might have something to offer. Unfortunately, based on the touring production, the New York reviewer seemed absolutely right.

‘BOMBAY DREAMS’ tells the story of Akaash, a brash young slum dweller who dreams of becoming a Bollywood movie star and meeting his idol, the voluptuous screen siren Rani. And, as in all good fairy tales, whether American or Indian, his dreams come true. But, in order for the plot to work, or at least to add some suspense, Akaash has some personal costs to pay and has to take part in the obligatory on-stage dance in which he is drenched in a water fountain.

The show attempts to mirror many a Bollywood musical in its lavish and plentiful production numbers.

Song titles include "Salaa'm Bombay," "Bollywood," "Love's Never Easy," "Lovely, Lovely Ladies," "Bhangra," "Shakalaka Baby," "I Could Live Here," "Is This Love?," "Famous," "Chaiyya Chaiyya," "How Many Stars?," "Hero," "Ganesh Procession," "The Journey Home" and "Wedding Qawali." In the local version, authentic music was played adequately by a small pit orchestra and two drummers placed in the stalls above both sides of the stage.

The touring production is hardly an example of masterful craftsmanship in either its technical or performance qualities. The sets were mainly colorful drops, nothing like the Broadway and London visual sights. The sound system squealed on opening night and drops were brought in at the wrong times. As for the acting, it ranged from amateur to semi-professional. This was not a high quality Equity cast. The “spectacular” dance numbers were less than spectacular due to repetitive and ill performed choreography.

Sachin Bhatt , who portrayed Akaash, the slum boy who becomes a star, lacked the necessary sensuality and charisma. He simply doesn’t have the acting, singing or dancing abilities to make the character appealing. He also has a distracting habit of snarling as he sings. On the other hand, Reshma Shetty was quite charming as Priya, the woman who finally wins Akaash’s heart.

The performance of Sandra Allen who portrayed Rani, the over-the-hill movie star, was all on the surface. She was never really believable. Aneesh Sheth, as Sweetie, a eunuch who is in love with Akaash, was very good. Kenneth Maha, who was a replacement portraying Priya’s father, was embarrassingly bad. To make matters worse, his fake whitish sideburns kept falling away from his head, making him look like he had swan’s wings sprouting out of his head.

In spite of all the problems, it was difficult not to smile, shake your head at the ridiculousness of the plot, and be mildly entertained by this light-weight tribute to the Indian movie musical.

Capsule judgment: Cleveland audiences give standing ovations to almost anything . A litmus test to the lack of quality of ‘BOMBAY DREAMS’ was that there was not a single person standing during the curtain call, not even from the huge number of Indians who were in attendance. Too bad. With a stronger cast and better production qualities, “BOMBAY NIGHTS’ could have been fun and even educational.