Saturday, April 17, 2004

The New York Times > Theater > News & Features > The Extreme Makeover of 'Bombay Dreams'

Bombay Dreams...Go Somewhere You Have Never Been Before

While I find the tagline to play a bit too much on the exoticism of India, its double meaning is interesting. The Bollywood on Broadway production is a first of its kind in trying to bring a huge part of modern Indian pop-culture to the foremost stage in the world, and that is going somewhere many South Asians haven't been, or dreamt of being before.

The New York Times today published a quite in depth review of the preview of Bombay Dreams, focusing a lot on how the show has changed since its move from London, and how these changes have not just made the show more suitable for American audiences, but how the show has become better as a whole.

On A.R. Rahman's score:
"It's been a long time since there has been a score as good as this," said Lord Lloyd-Webber about the work of A. R. Rahman, 38, a leading Bollywood composer who wrote the music. To bring Mr. Rahman's work to the West, Lord Lloyd-Webber commissioned him to write the score for "Bombay Dreams," hiring his own frequent collaborator Don Black ("Sunset Boulevard") to write the lyrics. For the American version, the producers hired the songwriter David Yazbek ("The Full Monty") to help rewrite some of the lyrics. As the book changed, several songs were omitted and new ones added. Mr. Yazbek wrote a song in the style of bhangra, a hybrid of Indian folk and pop dance music, which Akaash (the male leade) sings on television, propelling him to fame." Mr. Black tightened the lyrics in existing songs. "Songs in Bollywood movies don't really further the plot," Mr. Black said. "I have re-jigged a lot of the lyrics so that they do carry the weight of the story." The London production uses only 10 musicians, backed by recorded samples. The Broadway version has 19 musicians — the minimum for the theater, as prescribed by the musicians' union's agreement with the producers. In London, the cast lip-syncs to three of the songs because, Mr. Pimlott said, they did not have time to learn the specialized form of Indian singing required. The Broadway version uses taped singers on only one of the songs — "Shakalaka Baby," the show's signature tune — in which the cast is portraying Bollywood actors, who often do not sing their own songs.

To have a successful run, the Times reports, because NY lacks the South Asian population of the UK, its main goal is to bring in non-South Asian audiences early. They want to portray Bombay Dreams as a descendant of "Fiddler on the Roof" or "The King and I" — musicals with an ethnic milieu that have universal appeal. For example, while posters in London used Bollywood icons — a villain surrounded by snakes — in New York they depict more universal scenes, like a smiling Indian couple. They also point to India's exoticism, with the tagline, "Somewhere you've never been before." Broadway preview audiences have been only 15 percent to 20 percent South Asian, Ms. Williams estimated. On Broadway, Lord Lloyd-Webber observed, the reception has been good so far. One reason is that in New York the "white audience," he said, has been "wanting it to work, embracing the thought that it is musically from a different culture." Or perhaps, as he has already recognized, it's that the show is better.


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