It’s a wonder how watching people dance on stage can really change a stultifying Sunday. Add the sound of heavy rains in the background and petrichor in the air, watching a play amidst a fairly invested crowd makes for a decent end to the …weekend. Romeo Juliet, a musical performance by Chennai’s Hot Shoe Dance Company, was, for the lack of a better word, magical. It was also grand in the most minimalist way; a giant screen with background images, two gazebos from Savera Hotel’s ‘The Brew Room’ cafe, and fairy lights. You don’t need much to create a lovely display, I learnt, if you get your lights right.
Directed by Jeffery Vardon, one of Chennai’s popular theatre and dance directors, this Indian version of Shakespeare’s Romeo Juliet was engaging, with stellar dance moves to AR Rahman’s songs. Right from the catchy ‘Enakkoru Girlfriend‘ from Boys to ‘Azeem-o-shaan Shahenshah‘ from Jodha Akbar, the dancers jived, did the salsa, the tango and other dance forms that I was introduced to that evening.
Seldom a dull moment, neither the dialogues nor the dance seemed deliberate. Like Vardon’s previous productions, Romeo Juliet was classy without the metaphoric frills attached, enjoyed by adults and kids alike.
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, the titular Juliet in the musical, wasn’t much of a “revelation”, considering she has been a part of Hot Shoe Dance Company for a while now. But it wouldn’t be fair to call her a natural on stage either, since she appeared to be the only one aware of an audience while the others danced like no one was watching. However, a few missteps and timing apart, Varalaxmi did have her moments, the tragic heroine in her baby blue gown, often breaking into a sensuous number with her lover, Romeo (Salsa Mani).
Varalaxmi began as a student, became a company dancer, then a principle dancer, and is now a producer with the decade-old dance company. Her camaraderie with her co-dancers showed each time on stage, whether it was as part of the script or at the end, when the curtains came down.
Salsa Mani, whose real name is Manigandan, knew the importance of using a fairly massive stage. It was as though he had been aching to perform and make use of all the space there is, and live up to his sobriquet. I was half surprised when I learn of his Jodi No 1 stint and his own dance company. From the literal roadside Romeo to the romantic Devar boy, Salsa Mani was animated and full of expressions in his dialogue and dance.
But the chemistry between the two lead actors/dancers appeared far more passionate in the promotional posters than on stage. While one danced with gusto, the other was conscious of her movements.
The other dancers, though, deserved all the applause there was. Remembering those countless steps and moves was no joke, especially when it was done without breaking into a sweat.
The humour, however, was perhaps the only part I had a grouse with. There was a bumbling Sardaar friend (played by Navjot Singh) and a Tamil boy (Mahesh) for comic relief. To make their interactions appear funnier, cross-dressing was involved. While it wasn’t distasteful, it’s something that has been done-to-death on stage several times in the past. Like what stand-up comic Vir Das once said, cross-dressing shouldn’t account as humour. We deserve better than that.
Vardon, visibly proud of his team, announced that for the first time, their musical will be staged outside of India. “Romeo Juliet will be touring Bangalore and Hyderabad shortly. And thanks to Varu, our final destination will be Australia by early next year,” he said.
To Varalaxmi, who has a slew of films in the pipeline, dancing is just as vital as acting. “Thanks to Deepa Nambiar (co-director) for the dialogues and Jeffrey and Brionni Vardon (Jeffrey’s daughter) for the dancing. I believe theatre is just as important as acting in cinema,” she announced before bowing out of stage.
The Romeo Juliet review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the musical. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies and plays that are reviewed on the site.