REVIEW - New musical Bhangra Nation at Birmingham REP is an 'energy-fuelled, action-packed extravaganza' - The Malvern Observer

REVIEW - New musical Bhangra Nation at Birmingham REP is an 'energy-fuelled, action-packed extravaganza'

Malvern Editorial 28th Feb, 2024   0

AT LAST – here is a new musical that really offers something new!

Premiering at the Birmingham REP last night, Bhangra Nation left me buzzing and in a very happy place.

Take a belting book by Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew, punctuate it with a sumptuous catalogue of new music and lyrics by Sam Willmott and merge them together in perfect synergy.

Bhangra Nation is a compulsive, inclusive and joyous take on the old ‘battle of the bands’ theme. Here it’s American colleges and not bands, but Bhangra dance teams.

The plot concerns finalists, East Lansing University Tigres where the principal dancers, Preti (Zaynah Ahmed) and Mary (Jena Pandya) clash over progressive and traditional dance differences which become personal; so much so that Mary decides to split from Tigres and form her own group.

Picture by Craig Sugden. s

In the tradition of the ‘dirty dozen’, Mary puts together a whacky bunch of misfits and persuades restaurant boss-lady and ex- Bollywood superstar Rekha (Sohm Kapila) to get them Bhangra battle fit.

The action never lulls as the story progresses – there are alliances, romances and healthy heritage debate amidst a kaleidoscope of coming-of-age back-stories.

The young cast give performances that are full of energy and impact; but so does the not-so-youthful but just as energetic and highly watchable Bob Harms as Wallace.

Picture by Craig Sugden. s

Stafford Arima has not been afraid to go for full-on vibrancy in his direction; blatantly going for the brash and bold. It works a treat too and what it may lack in subtlety, it gains in tugging all the right heart strings.

Likewise, the renowned Hollywood and Bollywood choreographer Rujuta Vaidya, gives us huge storm force nine routines which beguile and dazzle.

Yet as awesome as these big routines are, Vaidya’s showstopper has to be Mary’s classical ‘Kal Mein Ishq Talaash Kare’ (The Momtra) dance. It’s set in front of a huge mirror which flies out at one point revealing Mary’s mother dancing with her – a moment that raised the hairs on every neck in the house.

Picture by Craig Sugden. s

A magnificent band under the baton of Musical Director Josh Sood get to play Hip-Hop, Kathak and even some Latin American as well as the Bhangra. Wind, keys, strings and traditional percussion merge seamlessly with Tabla, Dholak, Ghatam and Dhol.

Michael Taylor’s cavernous set folds, contracts and expands to enhance the journey – it even has a gantry over the orchestra pit adding a truly unique merger of cast and musicians.

David Bengali gives us some splendid projections, which complement completely Nick Richings’ lighting design.

Sound Design at the REP can be hit and miss, but Adam Fisher ensures every word sung and spoken by this big cast show could be heard in the Gods.

Picture by Craig Sugden. s

Linda Cho deserves an Oscar for the most stunning costume collection it’s possible to imagine – a delightful technicoloured assault on the senses.

Bhagra Nation is a magical journey of a musical that lifts the soul and in a nutshell, it’s a show that fits comfortably into our diverse city of a thousand cultures. Go see it, feel the love and bathe in the joy – I did!

Bhangra Nation runs at the REP until March 16 – click here for times, tickets and more information.




Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews


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