Theatre as compared to cinema is not very popular or sought after in India. Naturally, I was drawn to the world of listening to music and occasionally watching the same, more by accident than by design. Listening to songs or being part of any instrumental concert during the childhood was only possible during ‘off ‘ hours through the vintage Bush radio (an exceptionally polished wooden beauty) kept on the top self in our common bed room. We did not have the privilege of a record player or a tape recorder.
From class VIIth to B.A., mostly we would watch a semi-classical musical concert at Durga Puja “Pandals”. Afterall, Ranchi being influenced by rich and vibrant Bengali culture will have full four days of festivities, duly facilitated by traffic free roads.
In addition, once in a blue moon, one would witness a play in Hindi or English at St. Xaviers’ College, my alma mater. O yes, I did act in one satire during the annual Vishwakarma Puja celebrations. All said & done, it was either a play or a musical concert which mattered and both were seen once or twice a year. Mother of all the acts was, nonetheless, the ten day long religious concert of Ramlila, with its myriad, memorable and irresistible characters. Post-dinner, same was warm, fun-filled and delightful.
It was fairly long break from the Durga Puja and Ramlila days when in October, 2012, I was exposed to the amazing charm and glamour of Broadway at the Winter Garden theatre, one of the 30 theatres of New York, the financial and cultural capital of USA, that never sleeps.
Thanks to Vicky, my nephew, I managed to get the coveted paid entry ($76) into a packed Broadway show subsequent to an awfully expensive Indian meal. It was perhaps, a true grand finale to a five day tight official visit to the most populous and famous city of USA. One had heard a lot about it but had never availed of an opportunity. Most noteworthy were- light, sound, acting, setting, melodramatic effects or the speed and proficiency at which the artists would perform. Perform & leave an indelible impact. And ultimately bind & mesmerize the audience.
Inspired by the musical super hit ABBA of yesteryears, Mama Mia (Director, Phyllida Lloyd) is one of the longest running shows on the Broadway. Among the fifty odd dedicated and professional cast, it was pleasing to find Monica Kapoor, an Indian in the ensemble/understudy category even though it was not possible to notice her presence instantly.
My reading of the Playbill and interactions revealed that there were 22 musical numbers in the play. Some of the superhits included: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, Honey, Honey, I have a dream, Mama Mia, and Money, Money, Money. The play, per se, was divided into 3 parts: Prologue (3 months prior to wedding), Act one (the day before the wedding) and Act two (the day of the wedding).
It was all about a remote Greek Island, wherein a wedding is about to take place in the Sheridan family. The opening scene itself featuring the prospective bride and her two friends is not only superb in terms of song, dance and light effects, it leaves a positive impression in terms of make up, choice of colour and period costumes. The backdrop was simple, yet marvelous. The swiftness with which it was changed every now and then spoke volumes of the Director and his team.
Enthusiasm on the part of bride ( Christy Altomare) sets the ball rolling from the very first scene. Though her hero looked tall and handsome, she outclassed him both in singing and acting. Judy Mclane, who played the character of the mother rather brilliantly, had a clear and inimitable voice. Her singing and acting both were splendid.
Audience behaviour, if in terms of watching & listening was praise worthy, it was simply outstanding when it came to singing with the cast towards the end and ultimately giving them a standing ovation. In the dying or closing moments, at least three-four times it appeared as if the show was reaching its pinnacle. But pleasantly it swung back to emerge again.
Long live the show! Long live the actress who played the bride or the lady with a true golden, melodious and loud voice, who was compelled to become a bride. It was providence if not an act in the genre of predestination.
The Victorian style lavish hall, having close to 2000 seats was packed to capacity. Rather, one was feeling suffocated and claustrophobic initially. I was witnessing something in a theatre, sandwiched between women of all sizes, mostly obese after a long time.
May the magic of Broadway linger on to perpetuate and preserve the spirit of theatre. It was a truly once in a life time experience.
Postscript-once the show ends, exit doors are flung open on the side of 7th Avenue. Rickshaw pullers, all lined up with hand bells ringing evokes the sweet memories of a bygone era.