×

Wah! Wah! Girls

The show stumbles in its attempts to fuse entertainment traditions, because of a baggy narrative conceit, performers unable to meet the show's quadruple-threat challenges, and bland original songs that suffer in comparison to the piped-in Bollywood hits with which they're interspersed.

With:
Soraya - Sophiya Haque
Sita - Rebecca Grant
Bindi - Rina Fatania
Cal - Delroy Atkinson
Pavel - Philip Brodie
Devi - Japjit Kaur

The high ambition of “Wah! Wah! Girls” is to graft together the exuberant excesses of Bollywood movies and Western musical theater, in order to capture the spirit of today’s London, in all its multicultural, Olympic-hosting glory. But while the energy emanating from the stage of the Peacock Theater could fuel several sports stadiums, the show stumbles in its attempts to fuse entertainment traditions, because of a baggy narrative conceit, performers unable to meet the show’s quadruple-threat challenges, and bland original songs that suffer in comparison to the piped-in Bollywood hits with which they’re interspersed.

Given her strong history transposing beloved films (“Brief Encounter,” “A Matter of Life and Death”) to live stage settings, Emma Rice was a canny choice as helmer, and aptly stumps for an shambolic, out-of-season-Christmas-pantomime tone, aided by Keith Khan’s drolly economical set design of sheer curtains painted with backdrop scenery, pulled on and off by stagehands dressed in hooded tracksuits. Her sure hand falters, though, in trying to bring together all the disparate elements here.

Popular on Variety

At its heart this is the story of three strong women of Indian descent living in London: fortyish Soraya (the stunning Sophiya Haque), a courtesan-turned-dance-hall-owner; Sita (appealing Rebecca Grant), a rebellious teenager from Leeds who runs away from a repressive home to dance in Soraya’s troupe; and Bindi (Rina Fatania, never short of hilarious), a middle-aged busybody who, in the outermost of an overcomplicated series of narrative frames, watches the whole story of Sita and Soraya unfold on TV, frequently hoisting herself out of her oversized leather armchair to join the action as various characters.

Flashbacks of Soraya’s life in India, which reveal the hyper-melodramatic reasons for her eventual flight to the U.K., allow for the staging of traditional Kathak dance routines, to which the performers lip-synch in typical Hindi film style. The entrancing fluidity of Haque’s performance, backed up by the skilled dance ensemble, make these moments the evening’s highlights. Contemporary musical numbers are more sporadically successful: while routines bringing together Bollywood choreography with hip-hop and street dance, advancing the story of Sita’s integration into Soraya’s world, are often winning fun, a reggae paeon to the marvels of London, sung by Soraya’s black British love interest Cal (Delroy Atkinson) and a comic number that styles local handyman Pavel (Philip Brodie) as a Polish superhero, overstretch the melting pot theme. The further presence of a pretty young woman dressed as a bird (Japjit Kaur), periodically singing in Hindi and seeming to represent the spirit of love and harmony, consistently threatens to topple the evening into a rubble of thematic overload.

With the heroic exception of Haque, none of the performers move with complete comfort between Western and Indian dance styles; the exaggerated acting that the tone of Gupta’s book requires; and singing (though poor sound mixing makes it hard to discern anyone’s vocal talents, in particular Kaur’s). The knowingly slapdash look of Khan’s sets contrasts with Malcom Roppeth’s elaborate lighting plan, which adds excitement to the dance numbers, and Khan’s beautiful and detailed costumes.

Show is scheduled for a month-long run in central London and then returns in September at Theater Royal Stratford East, the latter stint doubtless intended to fill the post-Games void in the East London area where the Olympic village and stadiums are located. While auds of Indian subcontinent descent and Bollywood fans seem likely to appreciate its knowing references, and it’s hard not to be won over to some extent by its puppyish exuberance, overall the show’s unevenness and excesses do not destine it for crossover, mainstream success.

Wah! Wah! Girls

Peacock Theater, London; 1,000 seats; £42 $65 top

Production: A Sadler's Wells, Theater Royal Stratford East and Kneehigh presentation in association with Hall for Cornwall of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Tanika Gupta, music by Niraj Chag. Directed by Emma Rice. Bollywood choreography, Javed Sanadi; Kathak choreography, Gauri Sharma Tripathi.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Keith Khan; lighting, Malcom Rippeth; sound, Simon Baker; musical director, Mark Collins; company stage manager, Emma Banwell. Opened May 31, 2012, reviewed June 1. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Soraya - Sophiya Haque
Sita - Rebecca Grant
Bindi - Rina Fatania
Cal - Delroy Atkinson
Pavel - Philip Brodie
Devi - Japjit KaurWith: Keeza Farhan, Tony Jayawardena, Sheena Patel, Gurpreet Singh, Shelley Williams, Tariq Jordan, Davina Perera, Natasha Jayetileke.

More Legit

  • The Prince of Egypt review

    'The Prince of Egypt': Theater Review

    In “The Prince of Egypt,” a swords-and-sandals epic minus the swords, no one speaks, they declaim; no one questions, they implore to the heavens. In a musical re-telling of the Exodus story that is bigger on plagues than on developed characterization, subtlety was always going to be in short supply. But did everything have to [...]

  • Katori Hall

    Listen: Katori Hall's 'Quiet Revolution'

    Playwright Katori Hall’s latest, “The Hot Wing King,” centers on a group of black gay men — a community so rarely depicted onstage in the theater that she can’t think of another example. Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below: Which means there’s real power just to see them represented. “Because there aren’t a ton of images [...]

  • Cirque Du Soleil Volta

    Volta: Cirque Du Soleil’s Latest Blends Themes of Self-Discovery with Street Sports

    Blending themes of loneliness, isolation and self-discovery with the magnetic culture of street sports, Cirque du Soleil’s latest iteration, “Volta,” is an eye-popping and psychically soothing spiritual journey experienced through a prism of jaw-dropping acrobatics and aerodynamics that leave one gasping for breath. The Montreal-based entertainment company has produced a steady string of awe-inspiring shows [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band review

    'Cambodian Rock Band': Theater Review

    Is there anything less politically threatening than a rock band jamming to its own vibrant music? Tell that to the Khmer Rouge, which descended on Cambodia in 1975 and killed off some three million people, including many musicians. In Lauren Yee’s play “Cambodian Rock Band,” the doomed, fictional band Cyclo is represented by actor-musicians with [...]

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content