A.R. Rahman, Shekhar Kapur Unwrap ‘Why? The Musical’ at Expo 2020 in Dubai – Variety

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By Naman Ramachandran
Oscar, BAFTA and Grammy winning composer A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and revered “Elizabeth” and “Bandit Queen” filmmaker Shekhar Kapur have teamed to create Expo 2020 Dubai commission “Why? The Musical.”
The musical follows the journey of a curious girl who goes on a journey with her grandfather to search for the true meaning of existence. During their quest, the girl gets lured into a different world where the power lies within her to be the change she wants to be. The lead actors include Bollywood actor Jaaved Jaaferi (“Sooryavanshi”) and Shubshri Kandiah, who played the title role in the Australian stage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” The production boasts sound design by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty (“Slumdog Millionaire”).

“The first question a child asks is, why? And when the child gets older and becomes wise, they are still asking why” Kapur told Variety. “And that’s the other thing – we are very conscious of what’s happening to our planet. We related the two things – why are we doing what we do the planet? Why do we believe that we are separate from the planet why we do not believe that we’ve come from the same earth?”

Kapur and Rahman’s commission came without a remit, giving them carte blanche to create. They previously collaborated on musical “Bombay Dreams,” produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and on 2007 movie “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” but the duo say that they are constantly creating together and their process has never really stopped.
“The good thing about this whole thing nobody is telling you ‘we have to cater to this audience or that audience,” Rahman told Variety. “It’s like we’re creating a whole genre of entertainment for a multicultural place like Dubai, which believes in unity, working together, going to the future together, sharing intelligence, resources sources and nurturing talent. So I said, ‘Why don’t we adopt that as a theme, or thought for the songs,’ and embracing all the cultures, embracing all the belief systems and find the anchor point to the songs and bring in things which would probably in the Western perspective would be ignored. Make it inclusive, like a celebration of the world.”
The result is a 45-minute show, performed in English, featuring seven original compositions by Rahman, with lyrics by Sohaila Kapur, Dana Dajani and Shivang Vaishnav (who operates under the artist name thoughtsfornow), a cast of 100 dancers, musicians and performers and costume design that showcases the diversity of the world.
Kapur says that Rahman’s compositions speak to the idea of “forever” and present “an infinite quality” to audiences via compositions and storytelling. In turn, Rahman says that Kapur “looks at everything” and with “a lot of wisdom and forethought” adds up ideas which have a “legendary quality.”
“Why? The Musical” commences Thursday (Jan. 20, 2022) at Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza, the world’s largest projection dome, and will continue through Feb. 27. The Expo 2020 Dubai, however is not the end of the road for the musical as both creators have massive fan bases around the world. “Definitely there will be versions of ‘Why?’ If you’re painting on a particular canvas, then you have a different canvas, or if you’re painting on a simple canvas, and then you have to paint on a huge computer,” said Kapur. “You take the same thing but you adapt it.”

Next up for Rahman is two concerts by the Firdaus Orchestra, an all-woman ensemble of 50 musicians from 23 Arab countries curated by the composer, on Feb. 6 and March 8, International Women’s Day, as part of Expo 2020 Dubai. Rahman and Firdaus have just released a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on Apple Music.
He also has a Hollywood animation project that is still under wraps and Mani Ratnam’s two-part magnum opus “Ponniyin Selvan” besides several Bollywood and Tamil language film soundtracks. His directorial debut, VR project “Le Musk,” is complete and Rahman is looking for global installation spaces to tour it in before taking it to India.
Kapur’s next film, cross-cultural comedy “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” starring Lily James, Shazad Latif and Emma Thompson, will be released in the spring. He is also working on “Flow,” a multimedia project that envisages the consequences of stopping the flow of water, a metaphor for life, across a series, film and game. A stage musical on the life of Beethoven, where the composer’s works are sung to modern music, is in the works in South Korea.
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