'The show throbs'
The tabloids love Bombay Dreams, the broadsheets don't
Arthur J Pais
'An exotic Indian dish, but where is the meat?' headlined The Times, which praised the music, choreography and some performances in the $7 million musical Bombay Dreams, but slammed the show for its overdrawn story and bland direction.
A love story set against Bollywood, Bombay Dreams, produced by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, marks the first time that a show with an all-Asian star cast is being performed in London at the opulent Apollo Victoria Theatre.
'I won't say the show is sure to flop,' Times critic Richard Morrison continued, discussing the fear of some who have called it the riskiest venture in Lloyd Webber's career. Officially, the show is scheduled to run till September 29. The Apollo Victoria, with about 2,000 seats, is one of the biggest auditoriums in London.
'If Shakalaka baby takes off in the club,' he added, referring to the hit song and dance number in the show, which was widely applauded by the audience, 'if the Asian community rallies around and if enough pulses race at the thought of gyrating damsels in wet saris, Bombay Dreams may stagger through the cricket season.'
The musical premiered June 19 with a modest $3 million advance. Hit shows such as the revival of My Fair Lady or the brand new Chitty Chitty Bang Bang typically open with a $10 million advance.
'But to turn this mishmash into a hot ticket is going to take more than a spoonful of curry powder,' Morrison said.
While such broadsheets like The Times and The Guardian (with about 1 million readers) faulted the show for its stage play (book) by Meera Syal and less than commanding direction by Steven Pimlott, mass circulated tabloids such as Daily Mirror and Daily Express, which have more than 3 million readers, gave it wonderful reviews.
Everyone agreed that A R Rahman's music was wonderfully fresh and ecstatic. The music has not yet started climbing the charts but many reviewers felt the Shakalaka Baby number could be gold.
'You may find the jokes limp a bit and the story laughable,' wrote Rupert Grave Langton in the Daily Express, giving the show four (out of five) stars, 'but the show throbs.'
'It is great fun,' he continued, 'both flunky and romantic and, above all, it is a breath of fresh air in a West End dominated by has-been musicals.'
Daily Mirror said while the first half of the show sagged and looked like Bombay Nightmares, the second half was spectacular and throbbing with life. Bombay Dreams is sure to conquer Broadway, it declared, adding that Lloyd Webber, who has not had a big hit since Phantom Of The Opera opened about 15 years ago, has a hit on his hands.
The Daily Telegraph (with about 700,000 readers) conceded Lloyd Webber's idea of producing a show set in Bollywood was 'daring,' especially since the composer, known for such worldwide phenomena as Cats and Phantom..., was not using his music at all.
The headline for the review --- Andrew goes to Bollywood but there's no dream ending --- nicely summed up the review.
Syal's 'script is a mess,' the reviewer said.
The writer best known for her sitcom Goodness Gracious Me and two novels was not up to the challenge here, many reviewers felt. The Guardian reviewer called her book for the musical over-plotted and too busy and too inadequate in developing its characters.
'Syal fails totally to find a consistent tone,' the Telegraph said. 'Laboured jokes are combined with depressingly under-powered melodrama.'
The Times as well as The Guardian, which give starred reviews, gave the musical three out of five stars.
While Michael Billington of The Guardian found it difficult to accept the notion Mumbai's back streets filled with happy dancing slum dwellers, he conceded the 'lavish musical' was an invitation 'to enter a world of dreams and escape.' Apart from Shakalaka baby, he loved the staging of the Chaiyya chaiyya number from Dil Se that opens the show after the interval.
He faulted Syal for not having a consistent approach. The show is 'at its best when it sticks close to the formula it derides,' he said. 'What I shall take from the show is the sight and sound of the deliriously dotty Bollywood set pieces.'
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Glimpses from the West End musical-Bombay Dreams