Andrew Lloyd Webber, recognising that the form that gave him his fame and fortune needs to transcend him, has bravely (and wisely) put his money where his mouth is. Instead of merely bemoaning the lack of good new musicals out there, he’s producing one that is, artistically speaking, the most fully realised and brilliantly imagined new British-originated musical since his own The Phantom of the Opera premiered in 1986.
The show is Bombay Dreams, part-homage and part-pastiche but done with full-on panache, of the kind of romantic movie musicals that regularly come out of Bombay, home to the world's largest film industry. Now that Hollywood movie musicals are all but dead - and the Broadway and West End stages mercilessly continue to plunder the back catalogue of movies to plagiarise into musicals - it's fantastic to see a show that not only finds inspiration in a new source entirely, but also carries it off with such daring and accomplishment.
And Lloyd Webber's done it without himself in the composer's chair, assigning those duties instead to another extraordinarily fertile melodist, A R Rahman. Hitherto unknown in these parts, in his native India, Rahman has scored the soundtracks to some 50 Bollywood films, the CD recordings of which have notched up sales in excess of 100 million - as much as Madonna and Britney Spears combined.
Rahman's is a modern pop sensibility, delicately fused through Indian orchestration and melodic inflections to produce songs that are at once instantly accessible but also frequently unexpected. "Shakalaka Baby" has to be one of the most infectiously enjoyable dance songs heard on a West End (or any other) stage in ages, while "The Journey Home" is the most effectively soaring ballad in a modern musical since "I Dreamed a Dream" (from Les Miserables) or "The Music of the Night" (from Phantom).
The songs are also anchored to a story (created by Meera Syal from an idea by film director Shekhar Kapur and Lloyd Webber) and a production (ravishly realised by director Steven Pimlott and his designer Mark Thompson) that actually follow a journey, and not just of its hero's passage from slum dweller to movie star, but of the modern musical.
When last did you see a musical that featured a warmly drawn portrait of a transsexual (beautifully played by Raj Ghatak) as one of its lead characters? Or that charts such a convincing portrait of star-crossed lovers as the relationship between aspiring movie star Akaash (Raza Jaffrey, an amazing discovery) and director Priya (the beautiful Preeya Kalidas)? Or that marshals all the extraordinary collaborative talents that also includes the galvanising choreography of Anthony van Laast and Farah Khan so effectively?
Bombay Dreams is a show firing on all creative cylinders and it deserves to take the town.