Off-Broadway Review: MONSOON WEDDING, THE MUSICAL (St. Ann’s Warehouse)

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by Gregory Fletcher on May 22, 2023

in Theater-New York


In Monsoon Wedding, the Musical — which opened tonight at St. Ann’s Warehouse — Act One gives us a lighthearted, sweet, and simple story of an arranged marriage between two Indian families: one in Delhi, the other from Hoboken. The promised nuptials of the title begin Act Two, but soon thereafter, the other titular word creeps in to disrupt the engagement. The monsoon device pushes bookwriters Arpita Mukherjee & Sabrina Dhawan to dig deep into dark terrain; by doing so, all of the earlier easy-going discourse around family and love will truly be tested and challenged. This launches the musical into soaring, moving relevance as wedding-goers flip from happy-go-lucky to the struggles of an emotional storm — ending where only strength and determination can find a newfound joyful existence. The show is an upbeat, colorful celebration of Indian culture with some fun music and lovely design elements.

Namit Das with Bhaskar Jha
Palomi Gosh, Sharvari Deshpande, Rhea Yadav, Sargam Ipshita Bali

How thrilling to experience twenty performers (and sixteen musicians) in such an intimate setting. Casting Directors Dilip Shankar and Duncan Stewart bring together an exceptional ensemble, each one of whom captures the spirit and essence of his or her character. Without any Bollywood beauties, I admired how real and believable the actors appear. Even within the show’s unsettling caste system, where differences and tensions between classes are captured so succinctly, it’s as if you were a member of the wedding (which, given the seating, in some ways, you are). As you take in the somewhat complex but lively and humorous family relationships prior to the weddings, during which brides and grooms blossom into beauties, these people actually seem to be authentic Indians — whether American or Dehli — not actors.

Salena Qureshi with Sharayu Mahale, Devina Sabnis, Manik Singh Anand,
Savidu Geevaratne, Rhea Yadav, and Kinshuk Sen
Deven Kolluri and Salena Qureshi

David Bengali’s exquisite projections across the back walls are masterful, living paintings that offer scenic elements, evoking mood and insight to the emotional world. With the lush costumes by Arjun Bhasin, these two design elements alone are reason enough to purchase tickets for this visually striking production. Bradley King’s competent lighting design matches the high-bar of his colleagues when practical light fixtures (hidden above) are lowered, adding the perfect finish to the scenography. Jason Ardizzone-West’s set design offers a flattened two-levels of platforms, staircases, and furniture, but where he gets to shine is during the final wedding with two surprising scenic elements that lift the finale to a wondrous celebration.

Namit Das with Savidu Geevaratne, Jamen Nanthakumar, and Bhaskar Jha

Sargam Ipshita Bali with Miriam A. Laube, Salena Qureshi, and Meetu Chilana

St. Ann’s Warehouse has always offered inventive, high-quality theater with a black-box space, such as proscenium, alleyway, arena, or thrust. In the case of Monsoon Wedding, the Musical (playing through June 25), it is the latter, so the house right entrance cleverly is for the groom’s party, and house left for the bride’s party, and, once inside, the audience is seated on three sides of a rectangular stage. Unfortunately, the largest amount of seating exists on either side. The wide but narrow center section profits the most from Mira Nair’s proscenium direction.

Anisha Nagarajan and the Monsoon Wedding ensemble
 Sargam Ipshita Bali and Namit Das

Ms. Nair conceived the stage version, based on her successful, exultant film of the same title, minus “the musical,” naturally. She originated its first workshop in New Delhi — the city that inspired its story — and moved thereafter to NYC for further workshops. Later, at Berkeley Rep, it performed 100 times, ending back in Delhi in 2019. Originally scheduled to open in London in 2020, COVID brought theater to a screeching halt. Three years later, we’re lucky to have the production in Brooklyn. May it next move to Broadway in a proscenium configuration for which it’s best-suited.

The Monsoon Wedding ensemble Gagan Dev Riar with Palomi Gosh, Rhea Yadav,
Sharvari Deshpande, and Salena Qureshi

photos by Matthew Murphy

The Monsoon Wedding band

Monsoon Wedding, the Musical
St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water St. in Brooklyn
ends on June 25, 2023
for tickets, call 718.254.8779 or visit St. Ann’s

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