With the growing popularity of the colourful world of Bollywood theatricals in the capital of West End Broadways, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ musical initially sounds like a surprising experiment that could have gone terribly wrong considering it is a sporting related story with no musical performances in the movie, especially from Bollywood standards. But this musical adaptation of the 2002 hit comedy really does surprise you with how good it is compared to expectations.
With a truly British and truly Asian storyline, this musical is an elevating and fun theatrical experience. The story is a journey of a talented Punjabi girl (Jas) from a conservative Southall family who gets the opportunity to play in a local football team and get a scholarship to be a professional player. But with her sister۪s wedding just around the corner and the increasing scrutiny of her family on controlling her to act like a typical traditional girl constantly puts her in situations where she has to lie or hide her aspirations while she is forced to learn to cook Aloo Gobi and round round chapatis while working on selecting a perspective groom for herself. Her friendship with fellow British footballer (Jules) helps her get through these trying times and along with their coach (Joe) help her realise her true potential. She lands up in a love triangle eventually falling in love with the coach on a secret getaway to Germany to play a football match who then pushes her to play the final match where a scout from USA is coming to sponsor new talents which happens to be on the day of her sister۪s wedding. Caught up from every side in a mix of emotions she eventually decides to give it all up and be with her family at this important time only to realise that a big part of her is missing. Her father sees this and lets her off to play the final where she is wins and is picked to go to US on a scholarship leaving her with yet another battle to win with her family to be a girl leaving her next to fly off alone.
For a complex multicultural story to be translated into a musical for the Broadway wouldn۪t have been easy. Striking a balance in the social and cultural appeal of the story, the language, the cast and the visual treatment of the story of one of the most significant feature film of its time is surely worth a long thought that director Gurinder Chadha must have put in before considering a stage adaptation of her film. Amalgamating Asian and British cultures in the setting of the nation۪s favourite game and flipping it from a dialogue format to a sing-along musical format within the confines of a thirty feet stage is something that this musical does really well. Moreover the musical has been created considering an appeal for a wider tourist audience that flocks to London for its West End shows and who would not completely understand the context of Punjabi۪s in Southall. The writing complexities have been very fairly and objectively dealt by writers Paul Berges and wife Gurinder Chadha to deliver a great piece of work in this musical adaptation.
Although in doing this transition a lot of great material including from the film has been lost. The dialogues in the musical lack the fluency and the punch that worked really well in the film. Also the visual elements of a great game of football have been lost in converting this into a pure musical which takes part of the charm away. The production work of creating the setting of a football game in a stadium and the streets of Southall is plainly decent in quality and could have been a lot better. Costumes and the look of the characters is quite authentic though and carry a classy look throughout complemented well by the colourful lighting design of the show.
The music is a the best part of this show as it carries a string of very well written songs by Charles Hart on a fusion music base of Bhangra with a melodic orchestra composition by the classical master Howard Goodall and the pioneer of Brit Bhangra Kuljit Bhamra. The use of desi beats is limited but very tastefully done to take the music to a different level all together. The lyrics use wit and cultural references in an intricate way to recite the melodramatic story. Coupled with the fine lyrics, the music is exhilarating throughout and keeps the momentum with the east-west melodies balanced. The live orchestra in the show works really well executing the fusion music score perfectly to the note. Although, the choreography and staging of the songs is quite average and boring at points and does not truly depict the vibrancy of Punjabi music.
The performances are delivered to perfection by the entire team. Natalie Dew as Jess in the lead role projects the innocence of the character and her determination to excel in an effortless way as the story advances. The most famous name in the cast Preeya Kalidas is perhaps one of the best actor on the team easily standing out as the beautiful Pinky. Jess۪s father and mother played by Tony Jayawardena and Natasha Jayetileke and Paula played by Sophie Louise are by far the favourites in the show with tons of stage presence even in their secondary roles. Their energies are infectious cause they seem one with their characters rather than playing a role on stage. Lauren Samules plays Jules well and totally reminds one of Keira in her look and acting style. Coach Joe played by Jamie Bower and best friend Tony played by Jamal Andreas are also great in their roles. A name that can۪t be missed is that of Rekha Sawhney who is one of the many background ensembles but delivers one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard in a live show for the short 2 minutes of Heer that she sings in the show. Astounding is the word for her classical vocals!
Overall Bend it Like Beckham Musical is a full entertainer for the family. It has a good range of highs and lows in its story but the real story from the film seems missing a lot of parts in a run to fit in too many songs which seems overdone in a way. In the compromise to creating a musical the dialogues have been compromised too and lack a punch. But what is missed in dialogues and average production is made up in great music and acting by the full cast. Overall the show lacks the big moments and the wow factor to make one stand up and applaud in the middle of the show but it maintains a steady average flow grading as a good entertainer overall for a one time watch for everyone… Desi or not!
BizAsia Showbiz Rating 8/10