Bunty Berman Presents… at The New Group

“Let’s Make a Movie,” the production number that closes the first act, is near perfect,a delight for eye and ear. It does what a first act closing number should do, leaves us wanting more. The production design uses the entire rear wall of the stage as a giant movie screen where images of past Indian films roll by and seem to dance as part of the number. It is a spectacular touch, a brilliant choice, a directorial gem, and goes to the heart of this wonderful production.

Bollywood, for all its excesses and chaotic grandeur, its soap opera melodrama and romantic mayhem, loves movies. It is a profound and deeply felt love, worn on its sleeve and now shared by a world audience,who ‘get it,’ an audience who appreciates its winking sensibility and is grateful to be captivated by its simple pleasures.

Bunty Berman Presents… doesn’t talk down to its audience, snigger at its simplicity or make fun of its artifice. It makes that world of film fantasy available to us, letting us in on the gentle joke and the enormous pleasure of enjoying the spectacle of heart and soul and derring-do in this heart warming salute to Bollywood.

There are two love stories. Maybe they are a cliché, as they should be, but played simply and honestly, we believe them. Bunty, the struggling Director/Producer and his long suffering and loyal secretary,Dolly, find love. The Tea Boy, Saleem, and the movie star, Shambervi, who has fallen in love with her own success, finally sees the Tea Boy for what he really is, her own true love in addition to a Movie Star in the making. At a key moment in Act Two, they

remember the films they loved as children and sing, in Hindi, “Sar Jo Tera Chakaaye,” play all of the parts, complete with heads shaking and hands fluttering and dancing in the air. A touching moment; rare in today’s noisy, hard-edged, musical theatre.

Bunty Berman Presents… joyful bauble that it is, was written by Ayub Khan Din,the writer of, Rafta, Rafta… which won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy of 2007, and East is East, staged at the Royal Court in 1997, then adapted into a feature film which won Best Writing honors and a British Academy Award. Both plays were successfully presented in past seasons by The New Group and wonderfully directed by Scott Elliott. In Bunty, Khan’s deft balance of multi-cultural reference points in the lyrics, which he also wrote, his overview of Bollywood and the culture that nourishes it, lifts the cliché story, breaks the boundaries of the conventional. Bunty…is continually surprising, unexpected,insightful, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Scott Elliot is the director who has brought it all together. The set, by Derek McLane, uses the entire stage, all levels, to show us the whole world of movie making.The production design by Wendall K.Harrington uses movie projections to enhance and fulfill the movie dreams that we all have. Bravo to whoever had the idea of the film projections on the back stage wall.Costumes by William Ivey Long suited film fantasy to a tee. The lighting by David Lander was subtle and brash when needed. Josh Prince’s choreography had style. His fancy stepping, and show biz know-how, was part of why this small-scale musical seemed so much bigger than it was. Finally, of course, the music, by Ayub Khan Din and Paul Bogaev, was all glint and glitter, the razzle dazzle of old Broadway alongside tender love potions.

Words must be said about the acting. Mr.Din, also an actor, that he sings sometimes tentatively, fits the role and makes Bunty more believable. Shambervi (Lipica Shah),who sings and dances wonderfully, is a fine actress. Saleem (Nick Choksi) the Tea Boy who wins her heart, is smart, moves terrifically, sings simply, and in Hindi, sincerely makes you believe that on stage, as in film,anything can happen. A glad hand to the accomplished Gayton Scott who’s Dolly,the ‘sec who gets her Bunty,’ brings a cliché to life. Special praise for Sorab Wadia, who plays the film star extremis, a role so easy to overdo and mug to death. Mr. Wadia does it with panache and a wink. Even all the minor roles were well done.

It is Scott Elliot that deserves the lion’s share of the praise. His guiding hand can be seen everywhere in this small musical comedy that is hugely satisfying.

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