By Sarah Downs
Monsoon Wedding, the Musical is an absolute delight. Bursting with color, dance and lots and lots of marigolds, it’s the kind of musical that reminds you why it’s so much fun to go to theater. Creativity, heart and a shared sense of wonder, married to loads of talent and visual splendor, have given us a production that lifts your spirits, celebrating life’s difficulties and love’s magic.
The musical traces two parallel paths, old India and New India, tradition and modernity, obedience and freedom — paths which inevitably stray into each other. Writers Arpita Mukherjee and Sabrina Dhawan have wound these themes together as they manifest within one family.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s score reverberates with traditional Indian rhythm and motifs, with a pop music inflection. Melody lines go in unexpected directions and melisma follow distinctly Eastern paths. The music is sui generis – lyrical, truthful and unique, played on traditional Indian instruments of sitar, flute and drums. There’s even a brass band! It’s not the most coherent score, as some individual songs rather trail off instead of coming to a more decisive conclusion, but the overall effect is one of bounty.
The opening number immediately grabs our attention with vibrant color and rhythm. The stage teems with activity – the Verma family rushing to prepare for the upcoming wedding of daughter Aditi (Salena Qureshi) to Hemant Rai (Deven Kolluri), PK Dubey (Namit Das) directing said preparations, and the arrival of Hemant and family from the U.S. Spoiled material girl Aditi, high-end shopping bags in hand, weaves her way through the flowing tide of characters, including her adorable Punjabi Aunties and her cousin Ria (Sharvari Deshpande). Aditi may be a modern South Delhi princess, but she is following the family tradition of arranged marriage, while Ria has escaped that fate. She is off to college in the U.S. As present and past collide, the ripples of consequence spread in every direction.
Although the narrative centers around the romance between Aditi and Hemant, other subplots including a surprisingly dark twist, swirl around them. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Qureshi balances Aditi’s materialism with innocence as she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Hemant (as he is to her). Kolluri conveys Hemant’s romantic nature with believable earnestness in a beautiful tenor voice. As the ambitious Ria, her eyes set on the horizon even as she embraces the moment, Deshpande possesses a lovely stillness that draws you to her.
Meanwhile, as the comical rogue PK Dubey, Das steals scenes left and right. Dubey’s yen for the young housemaid Alice (a charming Anisha Nagarajan) provides one of the funniest moments in the show. Meanwhile Dubey’s mother (Sargam Ipshita Bali) has his number, scolding him lovingly. Gagan Dev Riar, as Aditi’s father Lalit, layers humor on gravitas. When, as Aditi’s wedding draws near, Lalit serenades her with the touching “Madhaniya” everything draws still.
Director Mira Nair holds the reins of the chaos of relationships and ideas tightly enough to keep the piece mostly on track. I occasionally lost the thread, but I was happy to abandon myself to the moment until I got ahold of it once more. The narrative’s contrasts extend to Jason Ardizzone-West’s inventive set, comprised of a simple, ultra modern house flanked by old fashioned bamboo scaffolding. Billowing orange curtains unfurl from the roof, instantly transforming the space from stark concrete to bright sunshine. David Bengali’s deliciously colorful, cheeky projections are a show in themselves.
The costumes by Arjun Bhasin complete the effect, in a parade of traditional garb in a rainbow of luscious deep hues, prints, trims and spangles that takes your breath away.
Mira Nair’s goal with this piece is to “create a feeling of masti, of a kind of intoxication with life.” Well, mission accomplished.
Monsoon Wedding, the Musical, conceived and directed by Mira Nair, music by Vishal Bhardwaj, book by Arpita Mukherjee and Sabrina Dhawan, lyrics by Masi Asare and Susan Birkenhead, choreographed by Shampa Gopikrishna, scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West, lighting design by Bradley King, projection design by David Bengali, sound design by David Schnirman, costume design by Arjun Bhasin, and music direction by Emily Whitaker.
Featuring Namit Das, Sharvari Deshpande, Gagan Dev Riar, Manik Anand, Sargam Ipshita Bali, Meetu Chilana ,Savidu Geevaratne, Palomi Ghosh, Bhaskar Jha, Deven Kolluri, Miriam A. Laube, Sharayu Mahale, Anu Mysore, Anisha Nagarajan, Jamen Nanthakumar, Shreya Navile, Nasir Panjwani, Salena Qureshi, Jonathan Raviv, Devina Sabnis, SEVAN, Kinshuk Sen, Alok Tewari, Aathaven Tharmarajah, and Rhea Yadav.
Band: Soumitra Thakur, Alison Shearer, Armando Vergara, Kenny Bentley, Ruan Dugre, Greg Gonzalez and Mahavir Chandrawat.
Monsoon Wedding, the Musical at St. Ann’s Warehouse (45 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201). Extended run through June 25th. Tickets at www.stannswarehouse.org and 718.254.8779. Run time: 2.5 hours with one intermission,