DDLJ Musical Come Fall in Love continues to charm in its extension through October 23
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, October 7, 2022
After 27 straight years in a Mumbai cinema, adaptation Come Fall in Love: The DDLJ Musical is a vibrant testament to the beauty of Indian culture, the friction of serving yourself or serving your heritage, and the way love changes us but can simultaneously honor who we’ve always been. Directed by Aditya Chopra, the production has verve, brightness, and joy to spare in its extension through October 23 at the Old Globe Theatre.
With book and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and music by Vishal Dadlani and Sheykhar Ravjiani, Come Fall in Love follows Harvard philosophy major Simran, an NRI (non-resident Indian) who has big ideas about the world and love, and yet knows that the master plan includes her arranged marriage upon her graduation back in her family’s homeland. When she meets the zestful and affluent Rog, it’s not love at first sight - in fact, he gets her thrown in jail! Nevertheless, sparks fly when Rog shows up unexpectedly to crash Simran’s dream trip, a month long tour of Europe, and ultimately the two find themselves falling impossibly in love, just in time to Simran to jetset to India to be wed to a fiance she has never met.
Boasting some updates from the source material that have earned mixed reception, this iteration of the much beloved story is nevertheless full of starpower. Shoba Narayan, who plays Simran, captures attention immediately with her scholastic ruminations on romance in “Maybe Love,” which sees her voice floating effortlessly across the stage and into the hall. Narayan perfectly encapsulates the idealistic nerd who has pursued her own passions, but also nonetheless acquiesced to meeting her parents’ traditional expectations with deference to the principle of seva, or selfless service performed without expectation of reward. Even as Simran travels across Europe, it is clear in Narayan's characterization that the young woman is looking to soak in as much as possible while she still can because an end is on the horizon. When she finally vocalizes the reality that this is her only time to live the life she'd choose for herself, the struggle to strike a balance between roots and her branches is on display in living color. Ultimately, Narayan’s Simran is considerate of the weight of expectation, working, as her father says, “twice as good to get half as far,” while being passionate about her own interests (philosophy, history, feminism, and family); she carries this dichotomy well and the update to her character and her beliefs about love are fresh and modernized.
Romantic counterpart Rog (a wealthy American playboy in this iteration, as opposed to the original British Indian Raj) joins the mix, played skillfully by Austin Colby. Colby's transformation from callous playboy to caring companion, while happening in what feels like a blink of an eye (the song “Come Fall in Love” spans the duration of their month long Europe trip), is complete and effective, and the character that you are irritated with at the beginning of the show quickly becomes one that you are cheering for. One promising scene between the two lovebirds takes place in “Like You That Way,” but their voices and dancing are beautiful throughout the production and their chemistry is magnetic and believable.
The play also introduces us to Simran’s parents, Lajjo and Baldev (Rupal Pujara and Irvine Iqbal). Iqbal is outstanding as the stern, traditional father figure whose every move is aimed toward the return to an India of his youth, and Pujara is warm, tender, and hopeful that her daughter will find true happiness despite the need to cling to their heritage. This is most evident in tender “I Give You the World,” a song between mother and daughter in which she shares her unfulfilled dream that her daughter might experience life “not how it is but how it ought to be.”
These leads are joined onstage by a variety of talented supporting actors including Rog’s larger-than-life mom Minky (Kate Loprest), his socially inept dad Roger Mandel Sr. (Jeremy Kushnier), friends and travel partners Cookie and Ben (Hannah Jewel Kohn and Juice Mackins), Simran’s dulcet-voiced fiance Kuljit (Kinshuk Sen), Kuljit’s father, Ajit (Vishal Vaidya), and an ensemble of 17. Each member of the cast shines vocally throughout and effortlessly executes both Broadway (Rob Ashford) and Indian (Shruti Merchant) choreography with extreme flexibility and skill. The glitz and sparkle is undeniable and, while at times the stage feels a bit crowded during the large group numbers, all movement pathways work well and do not diminish the dancers’ ability to shine.
A couple of outstanding dancing scenes include an early scene establishing Rog as a party-throwing menace with money to burn (I mean... hoisting flamingos? four turntables?) and it is a fabulous opportunity for lighting designer Japhy Weideman to play with a neon lighting scheme, a departure from the other more exotic and lush color stories in the show, to great effect... and, in fact, I loved every lighting choice made throughout the production. Other standout scenes include "Come Fall in Love," the song that takes the lovebirds on and off of trains and through bistros and landmarks throughout Europe, which features a charming display of skilled partner work and chair and cafe table choreography, and "Desi Kudi" Rog's song to secretly woo Simran in plain sight, which is punctuated by stunning silk work.
Additionally, each scene is stunningly framed in what may be the most intricate scenic design that I have seen this year, courtesy of Derek McLane. The sheer number of drops are mind blowing and the playhouse has not spared any expense in ensuring that they create an immersive experience that captures the kinetic globe-trotting nature of the tale. Most lovely, of course, are the arches and depth of elements in Act II, when the storyline shifts to India. These elements are alluringly complemented by Akhila Krishnan's projections and Linda Cho’s marvelous costumes which are resplendent and artfully transport us around the world.
I will say that, while there were some campier parts of the production that garnered audible laughter and that were well placed (such as the quick changes of the hotel clerk and the silliness of the Swiss bellhop), I was less thrilled about some other choices: specifically, I felt that actors at times cheated their bodies out to the audience in a way that read as forced rather than natural and occasional asides read a bit too big for the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage space. In a space like this one, I wonder if the audience could be given a bit more credit to catch the nuance and to fall in love themselves. Also, the first half of the production felt a bit long, leaving me to wonder if elements of the show (some of the longer Act I songs in particular) might benefit from some workshopping before the production hits a Broadway stage.
But make no mistake: this show is Broadway bound and, with its vibrant take on Indian culture and window into the immigrant experience, family sacrifice, and love, I personally can’t wait to see that happen. Come Fall In Love: The DDLJ Musical continues in its extension until October 23. Showtimes vary. Tickets: theoldglobe.org.