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Front Row Centre reviews BOMBAY DREAMS

"You're a walking cliché" comments TV reporter Kitty DaSouza to the leading man Akaash in the musical Bombay Dreams.

 

That same criticism applies to the entire show.

 

The clichés never stop in this Bollywood-styled musical that traces the rise of a talented and sexy young kid from the slums of Bombay, forced to turn his back on his past to ensure continued success.

 

That theme is certainly a interesting one but it s not milked to maximum effect in Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan's simplistic book.

 

Then there is the story of the daughter of a once-celebrated film director who wants to make serious movies: No happy endings and no Kung fu-style martial arts for her.  She sells out for a happy ending and apparently becomes a kung fu master in the process.

 

Oh, and let's not forget the drag queen (called a "eunuch" here) who secretly loves Akaash, yet ultimately meets with a tragic end that generated laughs from the opening night crowd with its corny pronouncement. The story told could be touching (and politically charged) but instead it is played for cheap (and muted) laughs.

 

You could forgive all of this if the show settled on one tone, but the authors do not appear to be in control of their show and are unable to guide it to a satisfying conclusion.

 

Usually in a musical, the songs advance the plot or explore the characters. In this case A.R.Rahman supplies the music with lyrics by Don Black. Early on there's a nifty song for young Akaash "Like an Eagle" that will remind some of PIPPIN's "Corner of the Sky." It's got a great tune and some pleasantly alliterative lyrics. Nothing else that comes along reaches this level.

 

There is an amusing parody of Bollywood production numbers, taking place in a fountain with dancers gyrating all about, but even it fails to give the show the lift it needs.  The second act reaches its zenith with the love song "So Many Stars" which has if nothing else an endearing melody.

 

Normally this is where we might expect a comment about how the enthusiastic cast makes up for the deficiencies but aside from Sachen Bhatt's idealistic Akaash there is no one to single out for praise.

 

When the leading man and leading lady fail to generate any emotional spark, you know you're in trouble.  When the chief villain is revealed early on to be carrying a gun, you know it's going to go off sooner or later. But this guy is supposed to be a charmer. Why else would the filmmaker be engaged to him? And are we really to believe she has no idea of his true motives?

 

There are some pleasures to be gained from the imaginative set designed by Kenneth Foy and the lively choreography by Lisa Stevens but, like a runaway train, the show careens out of control to a contrived "happy ending" when the cast sing and dance reprises of the show's non-hit songs.

 

While several opening night audience members dutifully clapped along, there was a general sense of disappointment in the air. Musicals can be fun and entertaining while still tackling serious themes. Audiences can handle lyrics that offer more than simple (and repeated) platitudes, and if you are going to parody a film genre, you had better make sure the audience understands what exactly is being spoofed. Otherwise the characters appear to be nothing more than a bunch of walking clichés.

 

 

Bombay Dreams is on a national tour that includes this one-week stop at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre. The show plays there through Sunday August 20th. For tickets or more info go to www.ticketmaster.ca or call the box office at 416.872.2262.


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From This Author Mark Andrew Lawrence

Mark Andrew Lawrence began his broadcasting career as music director for St. Catharines radio station CHRE. After six years there and eight years at classical (read more...)