Having sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, the Oxford University graduate is now ready to take Broadway by storm with Bombay Dreams, the new musical at the Broadway Theatre that officially opens April 29. Already a financial hit in London's West End, Bombay Dreams boasts music by Rahman, lyrics by Sunset Boulevard's Don Black and a book by Meera Syal and Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan.
Rahman recently spoke with Playbill On-Line about his Broadway bow as well as two upcoming projects: a musical based on the famed "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and one based on the life of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born a prince in the sixth century B.C. and eventually became known as the Buddha. PLAYBILL ON-LINE: How are previews going for Bombay Dreams?
A. R. Rahman: Previews are going very well. I have friends coming in from London who saw the show [there], and they seem to have a very positive vibe, and they said it's improved a great deal.
PBOL: Is there much reworking going on at this point?
A. R. Rahman: No, I think things are almost set. We're just tweaking the sound a bit. The new numbers are all settled down, so there's no panic to write a new number.
PBOL: What are your impressions so far about Broadway theatre versus London theatre?
A. R. Rahman: The thing is [the show has] a bigger budget to play with [on Broadway]. I've got a bigger orchestra now, 19 people. I really wanted the strings in the London one, but because of the budget, they couldn't afford it. Now we have all the extra goodies, which are really helping the show. And, of course, we have the really big sets now, which are looking better than the London show.
PBOL: Tell me about the contributions that Thomas Meehan made to the Broadway version.
A. R. Rahman: What he's done is really cool. He's taken all the [unnecessary characters] out . . . [which creates a] smoother narrative. PBOL: How involved were you in the casting of the Broadway company?
A. R. Rahman: I saw them come to the workshop in London, so we were all quite impressed on the whole.
PBOL: The casting was first done in London for New York?
A. R. Rahman: It was done here [in New York], and then the cast all came over to London for the workshop.
PBOL: Was there a big difference in the talent pool in London and New York?
A. R. Rahman: We always had the big question of whether we'd be able to find Asian people who could really deliver. That's why we were all so impressed to find people who were [in New York].
PBOL: How do you think American audiences will take to the show?
A. R. Rahman: It's a difficult question because we're trying to be honest with what we are doing and [it's up to] each individual to like it or not. I think it's a different show, and those who are probably bored with the stuff they've seen over and over again and for a change, they could come to this. And it's the introduction of a completely different culture, which is worth taking a look at.
PBOL: Did you ever think you would have a musical on Broadway? Was doing a musical part of your plans?
A. R. Rahman: I started as a film composer . . . working within the studio limits. And, my life has changed completely now; [it's] more in the public — in theatre and doing performances. So I think it's all unpredictable. Life is very unpredictable, but it's very exciting.
PBOL: You're also working on The Lord of the Rings musical. What's happening with that show at this point?
A. R. Rahman: We are still doing the creative [aspects] — writing numbers. But a readthrough or a workshop will probably happen soon.
PBOL: Do you have any other theatre projects on the horizon?
A. R. Rahman: Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra and I — we're joining hands to do a musical called Siddhartha the Buddha. It's probably going to be done in Las Vegas. It's a very spiritual kind of musical about the Buddha. That again is going on another journey of something else, which is very interesting. The prince who was turned into a saint. It's still in the very early discussion stage, but it's definitely going to happen.
PBOL: How much is Andrew Lloyd Webber [who produced Bombay Dreams in London] involved with the New York production?
A. R. Rahman: He comes in and out. I think it's good to have somebody who's completely into something else who comes in and sees it objectively. He came a couple of days back and did some adjustments on the sound. The theatre had some curtains, and it kind of ate up all the reverb, so he adjusted things. Little things like that are brilliant.