Take a black-and-white 1930’s Busby Berkeley movie with its simple boy-meets-girl plot and extravagant, staggering production numbers, add a hefty measure of color, move the location from Hollywood to India, and the result would be not unlike a Bollywood film—or the stage musical Bombay Dreams, which is inspired by Hindi cinema.
Bombay Dreams, which ran on Broadway for 284 performances in 2004, began a national tour in February and can be seen in May in Sacramento and Houston. The show, with music by A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan, has been somewhat reconsidered by director Baayork Lee.
"I saw the show on Broadway and thought it was entertaining,” says Lee, “but I never thought I’d actually be involved in the production. Then I got the call from [Christopher] Manos, for whom I’d worked at Theatre of the Stars. I read the script, and I asked if I could change some of the book, because I felt it needed a stronger point of view; there were too many mini stories going on. So I simplified the plot, and this production is all about the leading character.”
Akaash, the leading character played by Sachin Bhatt, is a poor young man from the slums who dreams of fame, the film star Rani (played by Sandra Allen) and a Bollywood career of his own. All his dreams come true, but he travels a bumpy road before the happy ending. The tighter focus of the book was just one of several major changes made by Lee. Two songs that were in the London production but not in New York have been restored. “I also developed the character of a reporter and used her as a narrator to talk to the audience and explain the culture,” she says. “I felt we were touring to places where people just don’t know about the culture. The set designer came up with the idea of having monitors in the lobby showing Bollywood films. Then, when you go to your seat, there are three screens inside the theatre. And then the show starts and we introduce the narrator, who talks about Bollywood, little things to help the audience understand what Bollywood is about. The show has an ordinary story, boy meets girl, with an exotic atmosphere.”
Bombay Dreams is now 20 minutes shorter than it was on Broadway. “It was too long,” says Lee. “And our needs for the show are totally different than they were on Broadway. We have a different set and we needed different transitions. Tom Meehan worked with us for two weeks, and it was such an honor. He was such a huge help, and he added more humor to the show.”
Lee, who is best known to theatregoers as the original Connie in A Chorus Line—the character is based on her own story—owes much of her career to Michael Bennett. “First I was a dancer for him, then dance captain, then assistant choreographer,” says Lee, who will be choreographing the upcoming revival of the landmark musical. “When he started to develop A Chorus Line, I was dance captain and his assistant, and he put me and my life in the show. When we formed the second and third companies in London and Australia, Michael wanted to go on to other things. So he said, ‘You take care of them.’ I did the casting, and I started directing. The transition was seamless. And look where I am now. Who would have thought!”