The friction in the musical is about how much traditional practice has to bend in a diverse society. “The question is, ‘Is it all tradition, or is fusion okay?'” Arima said. “This piece isn’t just about collegiate bhangra — that’s the vessel for this story of understanding tradition versus modernity.”
The diversity gives the show richly complex music and dance – the instrumentation includes a rhythm section, strings and keys, as well as harmonium, bansuri flute, sitar, tanpura, tumbi, tabla, dhol, daf and single bells.
“Some of the early figures were thinking about tropes of Western musical theater and how to put that through the lens of a South Asian American student,” Lew said. “It was taking two strong points of reference, from South Asian culture and American musical theater, and crossing them. the palette is wide.”
The choreography includes not only bhangra, but also kathak, a classical Indian dance form, as well as Bollywood, hip-hop, jazz and ballet.
“It’s a great story to tell right now, with the intersectionality: I’m not one thing, I’m multiple things,” said Christopher Ashley, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, who often works on Broadway. “And that intersectionality makes for a really interesting dance musical.”
Ashley said the production had taken advantage of pandemic restrictions by opening the doors to online auditions, which in turn made it easier for the show to look beyond New York and Los Angeles as it sought out young performers, many of South Asian descent, which, Ashley said, “will not be all the people you always see on Broadway.” Among those in the cast is a member of the UC San Diego bhangra team (Da Real Punjabiz).
“The show goes beyond the idea that representation matters — it gets to the point of, you belong,” Afsar said. “Growing up, we always feel that others have to validate us to belong. I hope this show helps young people realize that connection is actually within us, and that this mixed college bhangra kid is able to get that message across to everyone.”