Bhangin' It: A Bangin' New Musical
How do you make a feel-good musical in which the drama comes from questions regarding identity and cultural expression? How about by making the cultural expression in question a collegiate bhangra dance competition — high-bounce, high-energy, coordinated movement, in which exuding joy is an essential element of the performance? And how about by casting try-not-to-love-her Ari Afsar as your half-Indian heroine Mary, whose desire to innovate comes less from the urge to break with tradition, and more from a desire to honor her dead mother’s memory through dance? Sure, librettists Mike Lew and Rehana Lew Mirza are banging the idea that people can be “as Desi as they wanna be” against the notion of “normalizing colonizing,” but the story here is much more about the people involved. Defender of tradition Preeti is a villain, not because she's seeking to preserve her culture, but because she’s dishonest, mean, snobbish, and an utter killjoy who gets reduced to absurdities like “Doing things right is also fun!” (She also needs to be bitchier in her big number “Stamp it Out,” in which she declares “See ya later, appropriator” even as she raps about how her enemy is ratchet.) These are American college kids we’re dealing with, people who believe that where they’re from ought to form at least part of their identity, but who know that where they’re from isn’t where they are. That tension gets neatly expressed in one of the show’s stronger slow numbers, “Toledo.” But the majority of Bhangin’ It’s bangers are up-tempo, and the strongest of them —“Khaana, Khaana” (or “Get your butt to the Samosa Hut”) and “Commit” (an intro to Bollywood in the aisles of a drugstore) —are less about the moving the story forward and more about having a great time with Indian culture and leaving the audience either grinning or open-mouthed. (The dance numbers are so kinetic that even the sets get into the action.) Act One’s setup is more engaging than Act Two’s denouement is moving— things slow way, way down after intermission, and the resolution, when it comes, is rather too neat and tidy to provide dramatic satisfaction. But director Stafford Arima knows his feel-good stuff, and to that end, the importance of ending with a bang.
Ongoing until Sunday, April 17, 2022
|Sundays, 2pm-4:30pm & 7pm-9:30pm|
|Saturdays, 2pm-4:30pm & 8pm-10:30pm|
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