The Road to Qatar!
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
February 10, 2011
Did you hear the one about the two neurotic gay Jewish musical theatre writers who were hired blindly by the Emir of Qatar to write a musical spectacular to inaugurate a new sports arena?
Nope, not a joke. For David Krane and Stephen Cole, it’s life. The men were contacted in 2005, flown to Dubai, and wrote a musical in five weeks (they were given six) for production in Qatar. The show, titled Aspire, after the name of the stadium, featured acrobats, fire jugglers, LED screens, flying, cavernous sets, and a musical score recorded by a 70-piece orchestra. It was about a Sultan’s greedy son who learns courage and heart after going on three mythical quests led by a star from the night sky. The plot was decided before the men signed on.
The Emir stood up and cheered; Krane and Cole were heroes, and they apparently never ended up getting paid. So naturally, they took their experiences and turned them into a musical. The Road to Qatar! is a wannabe Bob and Bing road show about two neurotic gay Jewish musical theatre writers who get more than they bargained for when the Emir of Qatar blindly hires them to write a musical spectacular.
The truth may be stranger than fiction, but the truth is also more interesting than the show Krane and Cole have created, which is entirely based on truth. Perhaps the story just isn’t musical. Perhaps a less clichéd script and lyrics (both by Cole) would elevate The Road to Qatar! from a blandly one-note series of Middle East, gay, and Jewish jokes into something more. Krane’s music, on the other hand, is tuneful and well-orchestrated, and there are at least one or two memorable numbers.
The big one is “Aspire,” actually written when the Emir’s producing team told them the piece was in need of a rousing closing anthem, and that the word “Aspire” had to appear ten times. The result is an insanely catchy melody, a kickin’ beat, goofy lyrics that go “You gotta be big, you gotta be brave, you gotta aspire; you gotta reach up, you gotta reach out, you gotta reach higher.” It’s the best song in The Road to Qatar!
The five-member cast, consisting of James Beaman, Keith Gerchak, Bruce Warren, and Broadway/off-Broadway stalwarts Sarah Stiles and Bill Nolte, perform this piece as if they were doing Shakespeare. Their seriousness and full-commitment is what gives The Road to Qatar! its charm. Stiles particularly stands out as the Lebanese translator, while Warren has some funny moments as the Emir’s cousin, as well as a stereotypically gay director/choreographer (he doubles). Phillip George’s direction is dizzying at times, especially when the entire cast is on stage, but for most of the show he creates a near-perfect tone.
The Road to Qatar! reminded me a lot of the musical [title of show], in that it’s a harmless piece of theatre that's an ode to loving theatre. Yet the latter, in terms of book and lyrics, is more skilled than the former. It doesn’t rely on cheap laughs and standard stereotyping. That said, I believe Cole and Krane are, in fact, skilled writers (it takes skill to write an earworm as memorable as “Aspire”). They just need to create something with heart.