L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry NewsLSA DirectoryEventsContacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Theatre in Review

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

-A Theatre Project Book

Theatre in Review: Monsoon Wedding (St. Ann's Warehouse)

Palomi Ghosh, Sharvari Deshpande, Rhea Yadav, Sargam Ipshita Bali. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Near the end of its first act, Monsoon Wedding -- which has been working hard for nearly an hour and a half to establish a raison d'ĂȘtre -- starts to find its musical theatre footing. As it happens, there are two weddings in the offing, and both are threatened. Aditi, a "South Delhi princess," has agreed to an arranged marriage with Hemant, an earnest Indian-American banker, until he discovers that she has been having an affair with a married newscaster. Hemant, having been sold on marrying a nice girl with traditional family values, is stunned, angry at being deceived. Meanwhile, Dubey, a goofily exuberant wedding planner, has fallen for Alice, a demure servant in the home of Aditi's family. The feeling is mutual, until Dubey, a Hindu, realizes that Alice is Christian and has no intention of converting. The situations are mirror images: Aditi is a scandal for her sexuality, Alice for her piety. The double breakup unfolds in the number "Neither Here nor There;" the melody isn't especially compelling, and the lyrics are a tad pedestrian but, at long last, something seems to be happening. There's a hint of rain in the air, and, for a moment anyway, the possibility of drama, too.

Up to this point, the musical, based on Mira Nair's popular 2001 film, is burdened by a welter of characters and subplots. The book, by Arpita Mukherjee and Sabrina Dhawan (the latter of whom wrote the screenplay) is a fuzzy-minded enterprise that never seems to know where to focus or what to say about the characters. For example, when we first meet Aditi, she comes across as spoiled, complaining about her marital future; a scene or two later, she has become a dutiful daughter, warming up to Hemant on the spot. It's striking that nobody involved in Monsoon Wedding thought it might be a good idea to supply Aditi and Hemant with numbers exploring their consent to a pairing arranged by their parents. Indeed, it's a rush job: The wedding is scheduled for five days after they meet and will result in Aditi -- who, by her own admission, is a blank state, her main activities being shopping and adultery -- pulling up stakes to live in New Jersey; surely, she and Hemant might have some complicated feelings about what they are rushing into. But the show is too busy focusing on the family web surrounding them -- parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles -- to delve into such personal matters.

As it happens, both troubled relationships get resolved halfway through Act II -- Dubey and Alice's conflict is one of those only-in-musical-comedy roadblocks that magically disappear -- with half a dozen numbers yet to go. Suddenly, the plot veers in an entirely new direction, with accusations of sexual abuse made by Ria, Aditi's cousin (her exact relationship to the family is never made clear). This explosive charge gets handled in record time -- after all, there's a wedding to put on -- with the malefactor dispatched and any lingering questions about trauma and moral blindness put on permanent hold. It all turns on a decision made by Lalit, Aditi's father, following a number, "Unbroken Line of Family," in which everyone but Lalit gets to weigh in with an opinion.

Most of the above developments come from the screenplay but the creative team has difficulty realizing them in a musical theatre format. Certain plot points get watered down: In the film, Aditi is still sleeping with her lover, and Alice is accused of theft. In the musical, a narrative point -- really, a running gag -- about Aditi's brother Varun, who is obviously gay, is left hanging, largely because this is one issue nobody wants to address. Other jokes, including one about Saroj, Hemant's mother, and her drinking problem, fall flat. The score -- music by Vishal Bhardwaj and lyrics by Broadway veterans Masi Asare and Susan Birkenhead -- feature often-languid melodies and rather basic lyrics; one appreciates the perfect rhymes, but they stop short of poetry or wit. The opener, "Rain is Coming/Tip Tip Tip" suffers from audibility problems, which is especially distressing because it introduces most of the characters. "Aunties are Coming," in which the ladies rather tastelessly complain about the lack of sexual satisfaction in their marriages, takes up time that could be profitably applied elsewhere. "Come, O Humsafar," a quartet for Aditi, Alice, Dubey, and Hemant, is rather better, as is "All in This Together," a getting-to-know-you number for both sides of the wedding party, which benefits from a catchy melody.

If Nair, who directed, doesn't really understand how to translate her film to the stage, she at least maintains a solid pace, aided by Shampa Gopikrishna's lively choreography. That the show works at all is due to a skilled and immensely likable cast. Deven Kolluri and Salena Qureshi make such an attractive pair that Hemant and Aditi transcend their cardboard ingenue status. (I still give that marriage six months.) Namit Das, rocking a series candy-colored shirts-and-slacks combinations, livens things up as Dubey; he enjoys a strong chemistry with Anisha Nagarajan as the winsome, yet strong-minded, Alice. Gagan Dev Riar makes Lalit into a touchingly vulnerable patriarch, and

Palomi Ghosh, wielding a spray can of air freshener to remove the smell of her cigarette habit, is a wry presence as his wife, Pimmi. Sharvari Deshpande is striking as Ria, who, in a better adaptation, wouldn't get lost in the shuffle as she does here. (Indeed, she might be the lead character.)

Jason Ardizzone-West's two-level set, aided by a wagon that rolls downstage center, capably represents a variety of locations; he gets a big assist from David Bengali's inventive projections of skies, flocks of birds, family photos, and airport departure boards. (In one enchanting moment, a thick mist evaporates, revealing the New Delhi skyline. Also, the slow-motion footage of Dubey coming to claim Alice, who has fled the city, is the most amusing thing in the show.) Bradley King's lighting carves up the space as needed, among other things providing a colorful dance floor ballyhoo and lightning effects. Arjun Bhasin's costumes draw solid lines of distinction between Americans and Indians, rich and poor, in addition to rolling out an impressive set of red, white, and gold wedding finery.

If David Schnirman's sound design is a tad hit or miss, I'm not entirely sure the fault is his. The cavernous St. Ann's space, set up with the audience on three sides, feels heavily reverberant. The orchestra is split in two, on opposite sides of the stage. Many of the actors deliver their lyrics with heavy accents. All of these create conditions that, I suspect, technology can't fully address. In any case, the ensemble numbers are generally muddled and hard to make out; the solos and duets are generally better.

And, yes, the action concludes with a monsoon, during a delightful wedding finale that doesn't entirely erase one's memory of the halting show preceding it. I suspect that many in the audience will be gratified simply by the representation onstage of contemporary Indian life. But everyone deserves more than another weak musical adaptation of a hit film. The best you can say about Monsoon Wedding is that it is in dire need of a rethink. --David Barbour

(23 May 2023)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook