The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dreams in Broadway nightmare
- Bollywood musical trashed in media after glittering opening

Washington, April 30: Bombay Dreams, the $14-million Andrew Lloyd Webber-A.R. Rahman musical, had a celebrity-studded opening on Broadway last night.

But the glitter of the much-talked-about premiere quickly faded into disappointment as early as midnight when early web editions of today’s American newspapers almost unanimously trashed it.

Ben Brantley, theatre critic of The New York Times, called it “an expensive model of blandness”. Brantley’s reviews can make or break a play on Broadway, but that may not happen overnight for the Indo-British musical.

The tri-state area around New York, made up of New Jersey, Connecticut and New York state, has about half a million Indians. They may well make the longevity of Bombay Dreams a matter of desi prestige. Besides, Indian Americans, of whom there are few among the US media’s theatre critics, may actually like the musical.

After all, New York Post, the Big Apple’s other newspaper, called the musical an “overheated curry, although adapted for American tastes, may not appeal to every palate”.

If Indian Americans flock to Broadway to see it in large numbers, Bombay Dreams may play for a while, even if it may not run for two years as in London, which also has a large audience of people of Indian origin.

Today’s savage reviews in the American media were in stark contrast to last night’s celebrity presence at the musical’s premiere.

Donald Trump, the billionaire who owns sizable chunks of the world’s most expensive real estate in Manhattan, was at the premiere with his Slovenian partner of five years to whom he was engaged this week. So was actor John Schuck and designer Kenneth Cole with his daughter Catie.

Desi fashion designer Anand Jon was there too: in the company of Miss USA 2004, Shandi Finnessey. Trump’s former wife, Ivana, attended the event.

So did the new Mrs Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi, in a salmon-coloured sari.

And of course, A.R. Rahman and Andrew Lloyd Webber were there.

Many Bollywood celebrities who were in New York could not attend because of conflicting schedules.

Unusually for Broadway, where the curtains go up at 8 pm in most theatres, last night’s premiere opened at 6.30 pm. It was clear the event would be something of note as celebrities started arriving an hour before the show.

The post-premiere party, which is an index of success, started at 9.30 pm, and also unusually, wound up before midnight.

The reviews, which started coming in around that hour, were negative in the Canadian press as well. The Toronto Star described the musical as a “Broadway nightmare”. As if by way of explanation, the newspaper said “there is no other way to describe the misbegotten monstrosity which opened in New York last night”.

The Washington Post wrote: “It is such a bubbly piece of kitsch, such a torrential downpour of showbiz cliche, that it almost qualifies as a lark... what sends the show spinning, spinning down the drain isn’t the terminally dumb plot (a parody of the filmic conventions of Bollywood) or the insipid characters (stock figures from every romance you’ve ever seen). It’s a tone deafness in the humour, a comic cluelessness that’s hard to fathom.… Lacking satirical bite, the story exists to be endured, like a bad date.”

Apart from the celebrity attendance at the premiere, there was, however, some good news for the producers.

The 49th annual Drama Desk Award nominations, which were made public yesterday, showed Bombay Dreams with an impressive set of four nominations. The prestigious Drama Desk Awards are meant to equally honour Broadway and Off Broadway shows and will be given away on May 16.

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