Irving — For the third year thinkIndia Foundation has partnered with Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas to create and produce a show which will kickstart Mainstage’s season in the Dupree Theatre space in the Irving Arts Center. Doing so satisfies the mission of the foundation which is to use its passion for the arts and faith as power to connect with communities through their original creation. By using the proceeds for charitable giving they honor their third mission tenet, which is care.
This year the product is a Broadway-style musical, The Royal Dilemma, the result of a first-ever writing competition for thinkIndia. The parameters were originality, a word count of 500-1,000 words and in English. Each story had to address the royal dilemma theme. Submissions were organized into three groups: elementary school (KG-5), middle school (6-8), and high school and adult. Jurying the stories were 6 judges, two per category. Trophies will be presented to first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category on specified dates during the run.
Ravi Srinivasan, thinkIndia president, says they were looking for stories inspired by folklore from many cultures, including Native American, Middle Eastern, and South Asian, and used the classic One Thousand and One Arabian Nights as a basis. All of the stories submitted were South Asian. The show concept, script and artistic direction responsibilities were handled by Renuka Kant, Shatarupa Purohit, Shibani Limaye, Malti Srinivasan, Aarthi Ramesh, and Ravi Srinivasan. They are also responsible for casting and directing the show; Mainstage’s participation is mostly logistical.
The Royal Dilemma weaves together these stories of royalty, magic, tragedy and love.
The best and last story is concerned with destiny. One character believes he is the rightful heir to the throne, but another occupies that seat. Consumed with bitterness and envy, he enlists under threat the help of the storyteller to go to the kingdom and ascertain whether the man ruling as king is deserving of being there. This story is a mystery which unfolds, each layer referring back to an earlier time. After having solved this royal dilemma, the storyteller returns to the would-be king to announce her decision. Would he claim the throne he covets or would he not?
Laurel Collins is the storyteller but she does not narrate the story per se. Her character (Parvani Noor, a last name with Middle Eastern origins) serves as the bridge between the stories and characters, sometimes singing and dancing with the company. While we were unclear why a white actor was playing a role with a South Asian/Middle Eastern name (Noor is Persian), and in Indian dress, Srinivasan says they were looking for diversity outside of the mostly South Asian cast. Collins had that.
“When we entered in the collaboration with Mainstage several years,” Srinivasan says, “we wanted to find ways to address communities that our not necessarily our usual [South Asian] audience. … What better medium than art?”
This is a grand ensemble piece; no single actor stands out more than the others. While the acting is sufficient to establish character, the dance is inarguably the highlight and heart of the production, central to the storytelling. At times the musical feels more like a dance production with dialogue, not unlike Bollywood films. The lyrical choreography is beautifully executed. Company members are Thulasiram Govinda Chettiyar, Shravan Gaddam, Swathi Harikumar, Krithika Iyer, Arpana Kagal, Gaurav Ketkar, Ashwin Kumar, Anand Natarajan, Nanditha Niranjan, Priyanka Potturi, Sruthi Potturi, Shukra Seshadri, Rashmi Vatsan and Lydia Xavier. (There are a lot of performers who are not listed herein.)
Providing the choreography were Thulasiram Govinda Chettiyar, Shibani Limaye, Aarthi Ramesh and Anisha Srinivasan. For so many dances of differing styles, eight costume designers were needed: Shankari Babu, Shatarupa Purohit, Radhika Ganesh, Bala Rangarajan, Rhea Kamat, Shanthi Ravi, Renuka Kant, and Shanthi Velagapudi. The brilliantly colored costumes are gorgeous look magical under Kyle Harris’ lighting design.
All of the music was composed and arranged by Shatarupa Purohit, Aarthi Ramesh and Malti Srinivasan. Performing in the pit were instrumentalists Anirudh Ganesh, Betson Zachariah, and Sachin Sah, and singers Priya Dravekar, Prakash Kagal, Snehal Kanitkar, Athul Mohanram, Prathama Pathak, Amolika Saini, and Nivedita Subramanian.
A tremendous amount of effort went into the development and production of The Royal Dilemma. The creative team has successfully taken material from disparate sources and seamed it together into a story which works sufficiently to create a sense of royal fantasy. There’s a lot happening on this stage, but it is thoroughly entertaining throughout.
» TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry contributed to this report in the interview with Ravi Srinivasan