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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the July 7, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: ‘Bombay Dreams’

New York’s famed fashion priestess Diana Vreeland once said that “pink is the navy blue of India.” Be prepared. You’ll see lots of it in “Bombay Dreams,” the outlandishly outre $14 million musical extravaganza imported from the UK. It was presumably created as a kitsch-as-kitsch-can homage to the song and dance enhanced Bollywood films produced in abundance by the Indian film industry. A success in more significantly curried London, “Bombay Dreams” recreates for the stage this cinematic phenomenon.

Along with the excess of indulgent spectacle, there is the cliche-ridden plot to endure, about Akaash (Manu Narayan), a young man who rises from the slums to become a Bollywood star. The plot almost defies criticism. But I’ll try.

Easily persuaded to abandon his “untouchable” family and friends for fame and fortune, Akaash most notably denies his grandmother (Madhur Jaffrey) as well as the bevy of transvestite eunuchs with whom he evidently hangs out. Nevertheless, he succumbs to the wiles of Rani (Ayesha Dharker), a seductive film diva. Has Akaash forgotten his promise to his favorite eunuch, “Sweetie,” (Sriram Ganesan) to save the slums from crooked conniving real estate developers? Will Rani keep the easily distracted Akaash from the arms of his true love Priya (Anisha Nagarajan), an independent documentary filmmaker?

There isn’t much one can say about Don Black’s inane lyrics and Thomas Meehan’s tampering (for American consumption) with Meera Syal’s arguably original and more (according to reports from London) India-centric book, except to say that laughter might help in the most desperate moments.

Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who is ostensibly known throughout India as “the Asian Mozart,” has written a monotonous and irritating east-meets-west score that thrives on the sound of drums.

The biggest disappointment, however, is the choreography by Anthony Van Laast and Frah Khan that reflects less the varied and subtle dances of India than its does a morning-after-the-night-before aerobic class. Inexcusably, it reflects egregiously on a glorious dance tradition.

For the eye, there is an abundance of garish costumes, none of which appear to indicate taste. That goes for the largely cheesy-looking settings, and an active fountain that succeeds in soaking everyone on stage like the rains of Ranchipur. They are the product of designer Mark Thompson. Under the feverish direction of Steven Pimlott, the performers seem to have graduated (take back the diploma) from the silent-screen school of acting.

So sari.

— Simon Saltzman

Bombay Dreams H, Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street Tickets $40 to $100. Call 212-239-6200.


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