Review: ‘The Princess and the Pauper – A Bollywood Tale’ at Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage proudly debuts The Princess and the Pauper- A Bollywood Tale, a musical adaptation of the classic Mark Twain novel. Written exclusively for Imagination Stage by Anu Yadav (read my interview with her here), and with original compositions by Aks, Janet Stanford directs this production alongside Musical Director Deborah Jacobson and Choreographer Tehreema Mitha.

Having switched clothes, Princess Razia and Rani exchange scarves. (L-R: Alexandra Palting, Anjna Swaminathan). Photo by Margot Schulman.
Having switched clothes, Princess Razia and Rani exchange scarves. (L-R: Alexandra Palting, Anjna Swaminathan). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Scenic Designer Emily Lotz creates a beautiful, intricate outline of a royal palace for the revolving stage (yes – I did say ‘revolving’ stage!). Since ample room is needed for song-and-dance numbers, most of the show’s atmosphere relies on creative lighting (designed by Chris Brusberg) and projections by Kelly Colburn, ranging from a wild and dangerous jungle to a quiet, peaceful garden. The projections were my favorite technical part of the show – paired with ethereal music and cues provided by Sound Designer Matt Otto, they work together to create an overall mystical tone with thrilling effects. Vibrant and bold costumes from Designer Kristen P Ahern help seal the setting: long ago in the depths of India.

We begin with a family of put-upon farmers hastening to harvest enough fruit for the day of Tajdari, a celebration where the new sultan will be crowned by the princess. Choreographer Tehreema Mitha uses this opportunity to bring in some audience interaction, with the actors asking the audience members to help them harvest their crops through movement and song. Half starved and weak from work, young Rani (Alex Palting) begs her mother Hema (Sarah Corey) to let her have an apple. Hema tells Rani that every last apple is reserved for the palace royals, to which she replies, “How is it fair that we cannot eat what we grow?” Rani daydreams of the luxuries of palace living with her younger sister Zoya (Nora Achrati) as the two try and distract themselves from their hunger.

Meanwhile, at the palace, princess Razia (Anjna Swaminathan) is arguing with her nanny Fatima (Emily Madden) about her strict restrictions. Having never been allowed outside of the palace gates, the young princess is restless, and sings of her frustrations of being trapped and concealed from the outside world. When both girls are driven to desperate measures, Rani finds herself trespassing into the royal mango garden, to where Razia has also escaped by stealing a palace key. The girls are startled to discover that they look nearly identical, and decide to switch clothes for the fun of seeing how the other half lives. However, the girls are caught and carried away, and in a whirl of drama and chaos, Rani ends up locked in the palace while Razia is swept into a community of commoners.

There are a lot of funny moments as both girls attempt to adjust to their new situations. Razia goes into a frenzied panic when she spots a beetle on her sleeve, while Rani is overwhelmed by the extravagance of her morning meal. However, there are also some uncomfortable truths as both girls gain truer views of the inequities of the kingdom, led by the greedy, corrupt High Minister of the Sultanate, the Wazir (a crowd-favorite performance by Jimmy Mavrikes). The conditions are deplorable, and with the Wazir scheduled to be crowned the official Sultan in a matter of days, things will only get much worse. The girls band together with their family and their friend Nassim (Jordan Moral) to try and stop the Wazir’s coronation, but they encounter obstacles of both political and supernatural nature. Will the passion of many outweigh the power of one?

Imagination Stage’s production of The Princess and the Pauper-A Bollywood Tale proved an entertaining afternoon. The story is a compelling one, and includes many nuanced social themes that can help kick-start thoughtful conversations with children. It also has lively song-and-dance numbers and humorous characters, which can be enjoyed just as they are. Truly, this show offers something for the whole family!

Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

The Princess and the Pauper-A Bollywood Tale plays through March 18, 2018, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call 301-280-1660 or purchase them online.


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