Bhangra Nation

Making its premiere at Birmingham REP, brand new musical Bhangra Nation, with book by Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew and with music and lyrics by Sam Willmott, has burst onto the stage with gusto and is a sure-fire high-energy hit!

The opening routine instantly has you hooked with the infectious sound of Bhangra music and its famous beat, almost immediately having you shifting in your seat and wanting to raise your hands to join in.  The choreography throughout the show by Bhangra Consultant Parambeer Samrai, and with additional choreography by Rebecca Howell was so intricate and every single performer on stage was in sync and truly felt each movement. From the opening spectacle, I knew I was in for a good night.

The story is somewhat reminiscent of the plot for Bring It On The Musical. There is a fall out between friends on Bhangra dance team the ELU T.I.G.R.E.S, so the disgruntled friend goes off to create her own team to compete at the ‘Bhangra Nation’ against her now enemy.  The action is set at East Lancing University in America, and we are introduced to a mixture of people from all cultures who come together with heartwarming, funny and victorious consequences.  At the heart of this musical, the story is a struggle over how to come to terms with who you are, and whether you should conform to societal standards just because that’s what you should do.  It was an important message, and one that came across well.

The cast for this musical is superb.  There was no weak link, and all of them offered a confident, polished and first-class performance.  There were many standout moments throughout the show.  Siobhan Athwal as Sunita was a joy to watch, with excellent comic timing that shone through.  Zaynah Ahmed as Preeti was strong vocally and her dancing ability was second to none. Jena Pandya as Mary stole the show for me, with a beautiful voice and strong acting ability, she is a real shining star and one to watch for sure.  I must also shout out Bob Harms as Wallace who is clearly living his best life on stage, whilst also mastering the art of Bhangra dancing excellently.  In fact, I was pretty worn out watching everyone dancing on stage, as the energy was off the scale.

The set, designed by Michael Taylor transported us right into the heart of the University campus, aswell as inside ‘The Samosa Hut’, a place where Mary visits to take advice from Rekha (Sohm Kapila), a seasoned performer who becomes something of a mother figure with her advice and guidance along the way as Mary struggles to decide who she was.  The lighting by Nick Richings was colourful and vibrant, as was to be expected with this joyous artform.  There were many visual moments used through projections on the set including during ‘Dot Dot Dot’ performed by Mary (Jena Pandya) and Billy (Ivan Fernandez Gonzalez), as they slowly start to fall for each other.  Their text conversation appeared before our eyes, which was a clever addition to the story.  Another stand out moment visually was during the Bollywood inspired number ‘Commit’ with spectacularly colourful projections adorning the stage which added to the overall feel of the piece.

The band under the musical direction of Josh Sood provided a wonderfully rich sound which reverberated around the auditorium, with the booming beat of Bhangra.  Additional vocals were provided by Rekha whilst sat in the orchestra pit.  She also appeared on stage during ‘Ve Leja Mainu Pind Wal Tu’ which was pitch perfect and a joy to listen to.  Also to add to the true authenticity of the musical, we were treated to the Dhol, played perfectly by Parvinder Kaur and Juggy Rihal…….a beat so infectious that by the end of the show everyone was up out of their seats dancing along.

Under the direction of Stafford Arima, this new musical deserves its place on the stage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes its way to the West End, or out on tour so the whole country can experience the infectious and joyous show first hand. It’s an easy five stars for me!

This show was reviewed on the 27th February 2024 at the Birmingham REP where the show runs until the 16th March 2024.  Tickets available here: Bhangra Nation | Birmingham Rep (birmingham-rep.co.uk)

Review written by Emma Rowley

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Photo credit: Craig Sugden

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