Enchantment on The Road to Qatar

“We want you to write musical. How much?” Stephen Cole didn’t take it seriously when he received e-mail from Dubai. An award-winning New York musical theatre writer with international production credits, theatre awards, definitive books on theatre and major screen options in his life, he shrugged it off. The inquiries persisted.

Saved by a camel!

Saved by a camel!

The Dubai interests hired musical theatre composer David Krane, with twenty-nine Broadway show hits plus dance music and additional score adaptation credits for the Oscar-winning Chicago on his CV. Stephen and David embarked on an international artistic adventure together, fraught with unimaginable madness and excess.

They wrote their show in five weeks, under constant scrutiny and duress. It resulted in the first American musical to premiere in the Middle East. Ever. Accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra, it played in a giant soccer stadium in Qatar, for the Emir and 1000 of his closest friends. Its climax featured twenty camels dwarfed by the performance space and included a bit on Muhammad Ali. “Las Vegas on steroids.”

International disaster potential? The producers hired an emotional Italian opera director, a British cast, Russian dancers and a language-challenged Bratislava chorus, none of whom had ever worked together —-to perform Jewish Stephen and David’s creation. In Qatar. In English.  To everyone’s relief: a triumph.

Returning to the US, Stephen and David felt compelled to write a show about their experience– it was so darn funny, and a prime example of the arts as catalyst for international cultural diplomacy. Result: The Road to Qatar, now in its premiere run at Lyric Stage in Irving.

Imagine a musical that combines the hijinks of the Bob Hope/ Bing Crosby “buddy movies” in a tongue-in-cheek Cole Porter review style send-up while taking a stab at fostering Middle East peace. A skilled, versatile ensemble, four men and one woman, with impeccable timing and consummate mastery of physical comedy technique, comprise the cast and romp their way through the adventure, even portraying a camel at the show’s finale. Phillip George, with enough international, national and regional credits and Best Of’s to cram full a pirate ship’s hold, directs. He keeps the action crisp and focused, facilitating the mayhem, while maintaining its underscored cross-cultural sensibility and soul. The commonality in “being human” comes across as much as the hysterical differences. Bruce Warren’s transitions from the macho, terrorist-like film actor/ “consultant” Farid to flamingly gay, incompetent Italian opera director/ diva Claudio bring tears to the eyes. Bill Nolte creates an unforgettable picture as the pompous, overblown Egyptian producer Mansour, clueless about theatre, obsessive about schedule. The cast includes Brian Gonzales, Lee Zarrett and Jill Abramovitz as an enthused, out-of-touch translator who finds ‘personal freedom’ in London.

The show would benefit from an intermission. So much takes place with rapid-fire energy and speed; the audience needs a break to fully ingest the chaotic fun. The Road to Qatar runs through October 24th at Lyric Stage.

“Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.” Funnier, too.

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