A modest Broadway

  • ‘Ruslan’s Amazing Adventure’ was a well-prepared show whose continuity here can be easier because of its universality

Mar 20, 2016-

I was struck by two appellations—‘Nepal’s international musical show’ and ‘international Broadway show’ in the invitation sent to me by The Kathmandu Post daily to see a musical titled ‘Ruslan’s Amazing Adventure’ that they had organised on  March 13. The claim about it being the first show of its kind is correct because Nepali music lovers had never seen a show entirely prepared and choreographed in the style of Broadway. 

The familiar pattern of musicals in Nepal is dance, dramas or the Western musical-savvy youths’ performative forms that include, among other genres, dance stories or operatic experiments. As a theatre person, I am keen to see the dramatic quality of such forms, which are supported with dance and music. 

Not too many

But occasional performances of the Western classical and popular forms in Nepal have drawn the Kathmandu music lovers by surprise. Such experiments are very limited in number though. When Ambar Gurung, a renowned composer, singer and lyricist of Nepali music, introduced a Western classical narrative musical form known as cantata written for voices accompanied by instruments and performed by using forms like solos, orchestra and chorus in 1992, it was a big surprise. The sacred cantata that was made prestigious by the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was not a familiar form here. Gurung did not have any repertory at the Academy where he worked. This cantata whose libretto was written by poet Ratna Thapa was perhaps a one-time experiment. 

Naturally, this form did not receive continuity except for a modest attempt to introduce a choir after five years by Gurung himself.  A disciple of Gurung, musician Aavaas Fuyal, wrote a libretto entitled Neel chari (the blue bird) and performed a modest cantata in 2014. That could perhaps be the end of the cantata tradition unless somebody with organised repertory and a willing audience gives continuity to that form. 

‘Ruslan’s Amazing Adventure’ with its Broadway accoutrements came like a unique musical form in Nepal. This musical drama prepared and performed by Sushila Arts Academy with Alize Biannic as its principal director, writer and choreographer, has claimed that it is the first Broadway musical introduced in Nepal. This claim merits attention on two counts. First, the show was performed very well. The balance and smooth transition of the fairy-tale narrative with well-trained dancers’ performances and music was successful. Second, the form itself is new in Nepal, though attempts have been made by schools and amateur groups in the past to present forms of similar a nature. But they neither had the quality nor the perfection achieved by this musical. 

Spreading its roots 

But Broadway is not a very neutral form in so far as its origin and spread is concerned. When it evolved in America in the forties of the last century, a racial stereotype was a point of distinction. Gradually from the only white dominated form, it became inclusive and free from racial stereotype. But to understand this genre, we should look at two, if not many, aspects of its history. Broadway made New York’s Times Square its permanent home. It was limited to a few blocks in that area. It worked like a sponge that captured the major trends, tremors, wars and changes of the American society. This subject is too big to discuss here. But we, as recipients of the Broadway form in Asia, should mention one very intriguing and interesting phenomenon. Broadway was received in South Korea as a nationalist discourse. They saw an opportunity in this form to realise the unfulfilled dreams and to be more perfect and emotionally large. 

They saw this form as an appropriate genre to project a sense of prosperity through its rich musicals, sound, dance forms and the very large space covered in the show. I was overwhelmed when I watched Broadway shows in Seoul in different years while participating in theatre festivals. Whether the form represents fulfilment or ‘lack’ is a debatable subject, but the form itself brings that sense of opulence each time it is performed.


To bring the argument to a conclusion, I want to note that if a very well-known form like the Broadway is introduced on stage here, we should ask: Is this form going to shake the imagination of the audience in this country? Or will it be taken only as a simple means of entertainment and little more than that? Has this form enjoyed great popularity in India whose musicals we consume without qualms here? I do not see any Broadway shows creating cultural ruptures in this country. Korea saw American forms to augment their imagination and dramatise their sense of hope and prosperity. We do none of that here. 

But to stretch the discussion too far on the basis of this very well-performed show would be an act of exaggeration. My observations are very modest. I remember the opening of the Sushila Arts Academy in 2012. It was a simple affair. The late prime minister and leader of the Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala had inaugurated the Academy. In that gathering of people who mostly belonged to the family of Sushila Koirala, wife of BP Koirala, alias Sushila Bhauju, speeches were made about her contribution to the promotion of dance in Nepal. 

I never saw her dance myself even though I have created her as a dancer in my play about BP Koirala entitled Sandajuko Mahabharat. My colleague and erstwhile professor of English Bhuvan Dhungana, who had learned dance with Sushila Bhauju, gave a short demonstration of one popular classical form at the opening. But Bhuvan passed out before completing the dance. To me, therefore, Sushila Arts Academy represents the same simplicity and arts, the same intimacy and warmth. I am familiar with the dedication of the students of the Academy to their works and have attended some of their shows. This musical is one such modest but very well-prepared show whose continuity can be easier than that of a highly classical cantata form because of its universality and popular base. 


Published: 20-03-2016 08:25

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