BUMBUG The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 13, 2012
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has inspired all sorts of adaptations over the years, and I'm always on the lookout for new approaches to this classic tale. Bumbug, a new musical by Samrat Chakrabarti (music, book, lyrics) and Sanjiv Jhaveri (book and lyrics), is set in present-day Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world, and concerns itself (mostly) with a group of South Asian immigrants. The main character is Scroogewala, a young man from India who earns a humble living working at a deli. It's Christmas Eve but he has none of the holiday spirit—he's feeling overworked and very lonely (sort of a combination of Cratchit and Scrooge from the original story).
As night approaches, an attractive young woman named Sunita arrives at the store, looking for some Uncle Ben's rice for her Indian family's meal. He wants her to buy a more authentic Indian rice, but she demurs, saying that will cost too much. He castigates her for being too assimilated. But the two have an immediate connection, and after she leaves both seem regretful that their first encounter went so poorly.
Another woman (called "Angel" in the program) now appears to Scroogewala, and like the three ghosts in Dickens she will show our hero scenes from his past, present, and future that will presumably teach him some lessons about himself, opening up some paths toward happiness. In these waking dream sequences, we meet Scroogewala's parents back in India, Sunita's parents here in NYC, and Scroogewala's uncle, who worked in this same deli and was his first American mentor and friend.
The themes outlined here have little to do with the traditional ones put forth in A Christmas Carol—this is a show about a young man finding his way toward a new life in a new country and overcoming barriers to romance. I have to admit that I was disappointed and surprised that the authors didn't trade in what's universal in Dickens, instead borrowing only some names and the bare plot outline.
The piece is sung through, with no fewer than 27 songs listed in the program (total running time is about 70 minutes). They're performed by a terrific 4-piece on-stage band (Ranjit Arapurakal on guitar, Konrad Payne on bass, Shiv Puri on percussion, and Chakrabarti himself on keyboard) and an energetic eight-person cast led by Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as Scroogewala and Lipica Shah as Sunita. Indie theater favorite Debargo Sanyal brings the show most of its humor as Scroogewala and Sunita's dads.
An ensemble of three winter-coat clad neighborhood hipster-types (Kiarri D. Andrews, Brooke Ishibashi, and Matthew Knowland) are assigned most of the show's fun choreography, which has presumably been created by director Mercedes Murphy. But they felt an awful lot like refugees from Rent...
Bumbug is a show that could only have been written in the evolving Melting Pot that is New York City. If it doesn't particularly cast a new light on the famous 19th century Dickens tale that supposedly inspired it, it certainly says something about assimilation and the American Dream in the 21st century.