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Currying Favor

Broadway tries too hard with Bombay Dreams and Jumpers but a little musical called The Two Svengalis has its charms. logo
Manu Narayan and Anisha Nagarajan
in Bombay Dreams
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The Indian film industry, nicknamed Bollywood, is famous for its cheesy, over-the-top musicals with story lines that are often filled with bologna. Consistently popular in India, that sort of bologna is, indeed, a sacred element of Bollywood's movies. The plots of these flicks are so ripe that it's hard to satirize them; they're already neck high in camp.

So along comes Bombay Dreams, a Broadway musical that's all about Bollywood -- and it tells its story more or less straight, with spectacular sets and wildly extravagant costumes. The music and lyrics don't so much drive the story as further dress it up. In the end, Bombay Dreams may be this season's guilty pleasure because the book is unendingly stupid but the show is colorful, exuberant, and unabashedly trying to please.

Its star, Manu Narayan, is The Boy From Bombay -- or, at least the show's producers hope so. Frankly, he tries a little too hard; but we were rather taken with Anisha Nagarajan, who plays his love interest. She acts with more restraint than most of the others in the cast and offers one lovely vocal after another. Despite all the histrionics in this story about a slum kid's rise to movie stardom, Bombay Dreams is not about acting; it's about showmanship.

Director Steven Pimlott manufactured this musical with the help of Mark Thompson, who designed both the sets and costumes. The production is notable for a gesyer-like fountain that showers the cast during one of the show's most memorable numbers. But you don't remember the song; you remember the fountain. And that says it all about Bombay Dreams


To Jump or not to Jump?

Jumpers is the exact opposite of Bombay Dreams in that it's smart, but the production pushes its own sort of razz-ma-tazz. This revival of Tom Stoppard's early hit has the good fortune of having Simon Russell Beale in the role of the comically forlorn fellow at the center of a literally whirling world -- much of Vicki Mortimer's set sits on a turntable that keeps the action spinning -- but this is a cold piece of theater that even Beale can't warm up. For all its playful intelligence and nutty happenings, Jumpers doesn't have a heart. As an intellectual exercise, it's fascinating, but as theater, it ranks extremely high on the pretentiousness meter.


Let Them Hypnotize You

The Two Svengalis was performed at the cabaret club Don't Tell Mama but it's really a one-act musical starring Toni DiBuono and Fred Barton -- and a pretty good one, too. With music and lyrics by Barton and a book by both Barton and DiBuono, the witty and entertaining show tells the intentionally florid tale of two people who, driven by a need for revenge against their former lovers, rise to fame and fortune. Barton's songs have real craft behind them and DiBuono is a wonderful comedian. In short, this is a fine piece of work that we hope will have a continued life.


[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at [email protected].]

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