Lloyd Webber unveils his own version of Bombay mix... to an all-too familiar tune

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The Independent Culture

Andrew Lloyd Webber yesterday gave a glimpse of his new baby - a Bollywood musical. Surprisingly, it is a chip off the old block, since he has managed to find a composer who has fused traditional Indian music with catchy melodies that occasionally sound not unlike Lord Lloyd-Webber himself.

The impresario decided to produce an Indian musical because he was puzzled that people of Indian origin in Britain go to Bollywood musical films every night but rarely set foot inside a theatre. So convinced is he of the potential of Bombay Dreams that he is taking off his own Starlight Express to present it at the Apollo Victoria from June.

Yesterday, in a "fusion" restaurant in Westminster, guests nibbled at Indian savouries as they watched the young stars of the musical perform one of the numbers, "Closer Than Ever". The sentimental ballad had a heavy percussion beat, a flavour of traditional Indian music, mixed with lyrical, western strings that sounded, well, rather like Lloyd-Webber. Britain's most successful musical composer has found in his AR Rahman a man after his own heart.

At a time when there seemed to be nobody coming through in British musical theatre, Lloyd-Webber, who announced he had started composing again, said he was entranced by the young Indian composer. "I'm putting this on because this is a fantastic composer. And it's a chance for us to reach the Indian audience."

The 400-strong scrum of people packed in to the Cinnamon Club included the Indian High Commissioner, various Indian businessman and even a former Miss India and Miss World, Diana Hayden.

Miss Hayden, an actress, was offered a part by Lloyd-Webber in the show, but turned it down because she cannot sing, a disarming piece of honesty that sets her apart from several other West End actresses in musicals.

Miss Hayden said: "This will bring the biggest awareness of Indian culture for years. I'm sure it will appeal to everybody. After all, curry appeals to everybody. At the moment there is no musical on to satisfy an Indian audience."

Daljit Seabai, a publisher and chairman of the Reform Club, said: "Cultural relations are as important as politics. They reach more people. This will obviously attract a lot of people of Anglo-Indian origin. But I would expect 80 per cent of the audience to be white British."

The script of the show is by the TV comedienne and writer Meera Syal. For others working on the show, it is a new experience. Anthony van Laast, the choreographer responsible for Mamma Mia, said: "The rhythmical structure of this is so interesting to choreograph. Choreography in Bollywood is a mixture of Indian music and Pan's People."

* The British actor Henry Goodman is to take over the lead role in The Producers on Broadway from 19 March. The Mel Brooks musical is the hottest ticket in America, with touts charging £300 for seats.

* West End theatre workers are threatening to strike over low pay after failing to agree a deal with employers, it was announced yesterday. Theatre managers warned industrial action could have a devastating effect on a business just recovering from a slump after the 11 September attacks.

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