PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hooray for Bollywood, at Bombay Dreams

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hooray for Bollywood, at Bombay Dreams
Broadway — and in particular the Broadway Theatre — rolled out a dreamcarpet of many amazing Technicolors April 29 to welcome Bollywood to the Main Stem. It came from London in the form of a new and spectacle-splashed musical called Bombay Dreams.

From Top: Eric Bogosian, David Henry Hwang, Ishmael Merchant, Malick, and James Ivory (right), Ivana Trump and Rossano Rubicondi, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss, Shadi Finnessey, Padma Lakshmi, Debra Monk, Meera Syal, AR Rahman, David Yazbeck, Manu Naray
From Top: Eric Bogosian, David Henry Hwang, Ishmael Merchant, Malick, and James Ivory (right), Ivana Trump and Rossano Rubicondi, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss, Shadi Finnessey, Padma Lakshmi, Debra Monk, Meera Syal, AR Rahman, David Yazbeck, Manu Naray Photo by Aubrey Reuben

There to welcome it was a contingent of first-nighters with an appropriately international cast. Among the first to file into the theatre: the Armenian-American Eric Bogosian, the Chinese-American David Henry Hwang, the British David Leveaux and the hyphenated and highly global act of Merchant Ivory. Producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory were at this art form long before India's prodigious film industry became known as Bollywood. Theirs is a 40-year sweep of achievement, ranging from "The Householder" (1963) to "Le Divorce" (2003) and including such prestigious hits along the way as "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day"; it continues to this day with the post production of their latest, "Heights" starring Glenn Close and Isabella Rossellini.

"I saw Bombay Dreams in London, and tonight is my third time to see it, so put me down as a fan —absolutely," enthused Merchant, plainly and predictably a convert of the show and a native of Bombay. (His partner, Ivory, looks British but hails from Berkeley, CA.)

Different worlds made themselves harmoniously at home all over the theatre. To give you an idea: Ivana Trump and The Donald shared the same roof — albeit, on the arms of their long-standing main squeezes (Melania Knauss and Rossano Rubicondi, respectively) — but stuck to their own corners rather than risk a forced-smile photo op.

The real-estate and television star is in fact freshly engaged, the announcement having made the morning papers, but that didn't stop him from making intermission chit-chat with Miss USA, Shandi Finnessey.

The next Mrs. Trump, a 33-year-old raven-haired Slovenian model, put out a lovely glow from the engagement sparkler on her left hand. And she wasn't the only model with extra dazzle. India's Padma Lakshmi flashed a diamond wedding ring she just acquired from Salman Rushdie. (She's literary, too, having done a cookbook.) When a photographer asked the new Mrs. Rushdie where her hubby was, she said: "Planning our honeymoon." Hwang, the Tony-winning author of M. Butterfly who was represented last season on Broadway with a revised Flower Drum Song, said he was deep in the African jungle at present doing the musical book for Disney's 1999 animated feature, "Tarzan." Collaborator Phil Collins already has an Oscar-winning jump on the score (a song called "You'll Be in My Heart"). Hwang is also writing a play of his own, but he's not telling the title of that.

Another Tony winner in the throes of an untitled play is actress-turned-author Debra Monk. She said that she's 50 pages into this new career, but she'll relapse into actress again this summer for Terrence McNally's latest, Dedication, which director Scott Ellis will launch at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, "probably in the July-August slot."

Monk's date for the evening was her pal and Steel Pier choreographer, Susan Stroman, who has subsequently acquired a new hat (director) and scads of other Tonys. The hyphenated Ms. Stroman starts cranking up her new show May 10, the Stephen Sondheim-by-way-of-Aristophanes Burt Shevelove-and-Nathan Lane musical, The Frogs. It begins previewing June 22 for a July 22 opening at the Vivian Beaumont.

After that, she'll put Broadway's current Sly Fox, Richard Dreyfuss, into the London company of The Producers. Then she'll direct-choreograph, as she did on Broadway, the movie version of The Producers with Lane, Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman. "It'll be like the ultimate movie musical, a real movie musical," she promised. Think, she advised, "The Band Wagon" and "Singin' in the Rain."

Phyllis Newman, whose husband Adolph Green wrote those last two movies with Betty Comden, said she and her daughter, Amanda Green, will be hosting a celebration of Comden & Green's work with Leonard Bernstein July 3 at the Caramoor International Music Festival. More immediately and locally — May 15 and 16 at 3 PM at the Museum of the City of New York — she will join Jim Walton, Diane Sutherland, T. Oliver Reid and Joanna Young in About New York, a revue-in-concert directed by Michael Montel. "They're doing the first theatre salute they've ever done up there," explained Newman. "It's going to be a trip around New York — all in song — and I think it will be a lot of fun."

Thomas Meehan, who won consecutively the last two Tonys for co-authoring the Best Musical Book of the Year (2001's The Producers and 2002's Hairspray), will be getting right on that screenplay for "The Producers," too, now that his collaborator, Mel Brooks, has returned from California. With their other free hand, they'll be doing the second act of Young Frankenstein. "We already have act one done," Meehan beamed blissfully.

Meehan was brought in to Broadwayize Meera Syal's book of Bombay Dreams since New Yorkers are less familiar than Londoners with the show's Bollywood target. Additional, if uncredited, sprucing-up was done to A.R. Rahman's music and Don Black's lyrics by The Full Monty's David Yazbek, who admitted he'll be glad to get back to his own musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which recently got a "very encouraging" workshop from director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

Jazz pianist/singer Peter Cincotti, scouting the score for possibilities, warmed to it on first hearing. Intermission verdict: "I really like the music, very different and refreshing."

All three floors of Spirit, a dance club on West 27th, were taken over for the post-premiere party, and Bombay Dreams literally turned into spirits — a potent mix of Bombay Sapphire gin, peach schnapps and cointreau, dubbed for the occasion The Bombay Dreams Martini.

At a booth on the second landing, Annie composer Charles Strouse was singing the praises of Anthony Van Laast, who, with Farah Khan, choreographed Bombay Dreams. "The best choreographer of musicals in the world," said Strouse, who reaped the benefit of that once for a musical in London called Lyle. At the Strouse concert coming up at Merkin Concert Hall on May 10, Welcome to the Theatre, the composer will lift his own voice in song — something called "Music," from You Never Know, a musical he created for Trinity Rep — and there'll be a preview of his next Broadway undertaking, his musical version of Ernest Borgnine's Oscar-winning "Marty." John C. Reilly, who will be doing the title role on Broadway, had to bow out of the concert and is being replaced by his understudy, Alexander Gemignani, who's currently playing John Hinckley in Assassins. Also headlining the concert: Anita Gillette, Penny Fuller, Jerry Dixon, Rachel York, Nora Mae Lyng, Eddie Korbich and Laura Marie Duncan.

Most of the cast in Bombay Dreams, starting with the two stars (Manu Narayan and Anisha Nagarjan), are making their Broadway debuts. The lone veteran among the leads — and the seasoning shows beautifully — is Madhur Jaffrey, who plays with great dignity and grace the grandmother. She starred in 1965's "Shakespeare Wallach," the breakthrough film for Merchant-Irvoy, and won a Best Actress prize for it at the Berlin Film Festival. The elephant at the press conference was Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of the two longest-running Broadway shows of all time (the late Cats and the current Phantom of the Opera). He produced the London version of Bombay Dreams but prefers to take a backseat for this production (even though the billing says "Andrew Lloyd Webber's Production of"). "I didn't produce it tonight," he contended. "I'm just here as a guest."

A lord divided, he just flew in for the opening from Los Angeles huddles over the film version of Phantom. "Now," he said, "I've got to go home to do the scoring." The movie will be released in December, and by then the new Lloyd Webber — The Woman in White, starring Michael Crawford and Maria Friedman — will be up and running in London.

The leads give their opening curtain call
The leads give their opening curtain call Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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