Theatre review: ‘Umrao Jaan Ada – The Musical’

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There’s always a huge buzz surrounding Indian theatrical productions coming to the UK, where what the audiences are so used to seeing on screen is brought to life on a magnificent scale. After the much-acclaimed ‘Beyond Bollywood’ (2014), music-brothers Salim-Sulaiman come back with a live production of the historical story of ‘Umrao Jaan’ in ‘Umrao Jaan Ada – The Musical’, which playing in London’s Sadler’s Wells for four days this month.

Umrao Jaan (Pratibha Singh Baghel) is beautiful, has the singing voice of an angel and the pride of joy of Khanum Jaan’s (Kanika Maheshwari), the lady of the courtesan, as Umrao is a talent that brings in all the business and money. However, when the famous dancer falls madly in love with a Nawab Sultan (Nirnay Baghel) all hell breaks loose. With Khanum Jaan’s nephew Gauhar Mirza (Sushant Vasishth) plotting against the couple due to his own love for Umrao Jaan, the couple finds themselves separated at a time where they want nothing else but each other.

There is no doubt in saying Pratibha is brilliant and an absolute wonder to watch on stage. Her voice projects beautifully encapsulating audiences with her talent. Playing the perfect Umrao Jaan, she portrays grace in every corner of the stage. If anyone has seen Maheshwari on the small screen they are already aware of her brilliant acting talent, however, seeing her live is a whole new experience. She plays the perfect Khanum Jaan, where she needs no zooming of any cameras to get noticed. Like Pratibha, Nirnay is as wonderful to watch and listen to. Playing the Nawab whose dialogue is mainly in poetry form, it’s his singing that grabs everyone’s attention. Vasishth is the perfect addition to a wonderful star cast. As his character goes from good to bad, he is able to show off his talent to the max. Again, his singing voice is another plus to this simple production, where audiences can’t help but to like him despite his negative shades. A special mention has to go to Anubhav Suman, who plays the local town singer. His vocals were nothing short of amazing, showing off his raag in such a simple way which definitely got the appreciation it deserves.

As the cast and crew did their final bow at the end of the production, one does seem to realise that with what they’ve just experienced and that there’s a reason why the Merchant brothers have reached to such heights. The music in this production is simply blissful, having included the likes of ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’, ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti’, ‘Justuji Jiski Hai’ and ‘Zindagi Jab Bhi’ from the 1981 Rekha starrer ‘Umrao Jaan’ also including two newly composed songs, Salim-Sulaiman have showcased musical brilliance which is endearing in its sound as it is in visuals and performances. What’s more is that instead of reviving the much loved film songs, the duo have kept them as true to their originals as possible, and the voices of each character only elevates that magic.

Overall the musical is a wonderful watch and the cast is particularly impressive. So much so that at one point, a glitch in their technological system i the final show stopped the music for a few seconds during a big number, with Suman singing a solo. Though his mic was also turned off during the split second, his voice projected so well it only impressed audiences further, making everyone realise all over again they were witnessing live singing on stage. Being a tragic love story however, the storyline falls short on actually showing how Umrao and the Nawab’s love grows into an intense bond. It almost seems rushed, and the ‘love at first sight’ aspect is missed. Another disappointment is the small subtitles at the venue which didn’t allow for audiences to read and watch the stage at the same time. With the whole play being in Urdu, it was a positive that subtitles were provided, however, the screens in which they were displayed on were too small, which also meant that the text was difficult to read. People would find themselves looking away from the stage to read them – missing what was happening in the show.

The actors and performers did an amazing job, wowing audiences with their talent. The stage production and design were also very impressive, and the costumes added to the vibrancy of the show. Despite the glitches, the makers have worked well with the resources they were provided, and there’s no doubt that if this production were to return to the UK, the audience numbers would definitely grow. A big shoutout to director Rajeev Goswami and all the team behind the scenes who have been imperative at making this show the extravaganza it clearly is.

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