BWW Review: BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM at St Lawrence Centre
I didn't see the Bend it Like Beckham movie when it came out, in 2002, but iI remember that the movie inspired my sister to pick up a soccer ball for the first time in her life. She stopped playing soccer after a couple of weeks, but the legacy of Bend it Like Beckham endured, in her life, and in others', not just as an ode to the world's most popular sport, but as an anthem of girl power and a hymn to friendship.
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha adapted Bend it... into a stage musical with the help of composer Howard Goodall, lyricist Charles Hart, and fellow book-writer Paul Mayeda Berges. BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: THE MUSICAL sports all of the same energy and joy as the film, with the addition of some clever and catchy new music.
The story is set in West London, in 2001. Jasminder ("Jess") (Laila Zaidi) lives her with her conservative Indian parents and older sister in a house wallpapered with photos of Jess's idol, David Beckham. Jess is a gifted soccer player herself, and kicking the ball in the park one day she catches the eye of Jules (Catarina Ciccone), another young player, who convinces Jess to join her fledgling girls' team, the Hounslow Harriers. With Jess and Jules leading the team, the Harriers are unstoppable - until Jess's parents find out, and forbid her from setting foot on a soccer field ever again.
Jess is torn between her obligations to her family and her dream of playing the game that she loves. Everyone tells her she has what it takes to make it big - except her parents, who remind her that her commitment, first and foremost, should be to her family. I won't tell you how BEND IT... ends, but suffice to say that this is an uplifting musical, more Hairspray than Les Mis, and everyone, on stage and in the audience, ends up getting what they want.
Although practical restrictions limit the actual amount of soccer playing that goes on on stage, BEND IT... THE MUSICAL is in some ways an improvement over the original film. Goodall and Hart's score blends a bouncy Broadway style with traditional Indian melodies, producing something new that is both innovative and authentic. Likewise, choreographers Gino Berti and Daniel Ezralow have worked alongside Indian dance expert Longinus Fernandes to give BEND IT... a truly unique visual style.
The highlight of the show is a long number in the second act which combines an Indian wedding with a soccer match. It is not only intensely enjoyable and exciting, it also demonstrates the cleverness of the show's creators and its director, Madeline Paul, in blending artistic styles, tones, and moments.
Jess is played by Laila Zaidi, who has already made a name for herself on London's West End with a rich, expressive singing voice. Zaidi's Jess shares some of her best moments on stage with Jules, played by Ontario-based actress Catarina Ciccone, a rising star and absolute scene-stealer with a powerful voice and keen sense of comedic timing. A shout-out is also due to Matt Nethersole as Tony, Jess's best friend, who hangs low through most of the first act then becomes one of the best things about the second.
If there's one thing to love about BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: THE MUSICAL, it's the show's optimistic charm, its faith in the power of dreams and the possibilities that await the people who pursue them. If there's another thing to love about BEND IT..., it's the musical's thrilling blend of musical and dance styles. If there's a third thing to love, it's the show's talented and hilarious cast. What I'm saying is, there's a lot to love.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: THE MUSICAL runs through 5 January at the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Seanna Kennedy Photography