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Musical 'The Road to Qatar!' swerves badly.

Summary: NEW YORK: Exclamation marks in the title of musicals are usually a promise of a fun, merry confection. Think "Oklahoma!" or "Mamma Mia!" That's definitely not the case with "The Road to Qatar!" - a bad musical that is based on the creators' real experience writing an apparently even worse musical for the emir of Qatar in 2005. The exclamation mark is

By Mark Kennedy

Associated Press

NEW YORK: Exclamation marks in the title of musicals are usually a promise of a fun, merry confection. Think "Oklahoma!" or "Mamma Mia!"

That's definitely not the case with "The Road to Qatar!" -- a bad musical that is based on the creators' real experience writing an apparently even worse musical for the emir of Qatar in 2005. The exclamation mark is meant to capture the zany fun of a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road movie.

What opened Thursday at off-Broadway's York Theatre Company is a frantic, groan-producing embarrassment. No punctuation can save it.

"There's a place where oil is pumpin,'" warbles one lyric. "That's the place I know I wanna sit my rump in!"

"Paula Abdul. She from Middle East," another line tinkles, "I talk to her father, Abdul Abdul."

The musical is supposed to be a lighthearted look at how composer David Krane and lyricist Stephen Cole -- "two short Jews," as they describe themselves in the show -- were commissioned to create "Aspire," the first U.S. musical to premiere in the Middle East.

Here, the duo were force-fed a ridiculous plot and producers insisted it include such topics as camels, pearl diving, ancient Greece and Mohammad Ali. The two completed the musical in a Dubai hotel in just five weeks and then quickly lost control of it.

The show that opened had 100 imported actors, camels and fire-eating jugglers, all accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra. It was apparently quite horrible -- a vanity project gone mad -- and yet Krane and Cole compounded the error with their own vanity project by creating "The Road to Qatar!"

It seems like it came out of a frat house -- and should have stayed there.

It's gamely sung and acted by a five-member cast trying hard. James Beaman and Keith Gerchak play the creative duo, while Bill Nolte, Sarah Stiles and Bruce Warren play a series of other roles, mostly Arab.

Under the direction of Phillip George, they plough through 16 musical numbers and one reprise in just 90 minutes. The best song, it turns out, is not from this musical at all but is the theme song from the original show.

If anything, "The Road to Qatar!" is a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, full of offensive stereotypes of Egyptians, Lebanese, Indians, Qataris, Italians, Jews -- among others. Perhaps the creators thought making fun of everyone would be hysterically daffy but the jokes are so crude as to be offensive.

Nolte, Stiles and Warren have great timing and obvious physical comedy skills, but they are wasted here.

In one scene, an Air India flight attendant hands our heroes a bag of food. "Here is your curried curry balls with a curry sauce. The choice of wines is red and curry." There also are camel jokes, "Walk Like an Egyptian" dancing, terrorism jokes and blowup palm trees.

Those old Hope-Crosby road movies look politically correct by comparison. At a time when Egyptians are dying on the streets of Cairo and turmoil bubbles in other parts of the region, "The Road to Qatar!" is out of place, an unfortunate throwback. It should have been the road not taken. Put an exclamation point on that. -- With The Daily Star

Copyright 2011, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Feb 5, 2011
Words:612
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