Gurinder Chadha’s newest project, the stage production of Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical, will receive its North American debut right here in Toronto.
“I’m very excited to launch the musical here in Toronto because it’s such a great city, and Canada’s a great country, and I love the way they embrace and celebrate diversity,” Chadha said during the announcement, which took place at the IN5 Experium: The Golden Temple of Amritsar exhibition in Brampton, a suburb northwest of Toronto that’s home to a prominent South Asian community.
“Like the movie, the musical is an extension of that celebration.”
The film tells the story of 18-year-old Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra as she navigates life in the west London suburb of Hounslow, torn between the pressures applied by her conservative Punjabi Sikh family, her traditionally British friends, and her passion for soccer as inspired by Manchester United footballer David Beckham.
Chadha says that the stage interpretation is based on the same themes as the film but sets them against a soundtrack that’s a fusion of South Asian musical styles such as Bhangra melded with themes more typical of Western musical theatre.
“It’s a universal story,” Chadha said. “It’s a mom and dad who want their daughter to behave in the way they want her to, and playing football doesn’t look nice, as the mom said. You need to learn how to cook and make nice, round roti, and (Jess) just has different dreams.
“So, it’s really a show about dreams and about what the parents’ generation wanted for themselves but weren’t able to have, but now they have the opportunity to either hold the daughter back or let her fly.
“I like the movie a lot, but I actually think the musical is better. To me, it was a great way to retell that story from the film that a lot of people love but give them a different experience.”
In explaining how Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical might speak to the heart of the experiences of Canadian immigrants, particularly those of South Asian origin, Chadha said she drew inspiration from a musical that plays a similar role for another culture.
“When I was making the musical, I was channeling Fiddler on the Roof,” Chadha said. Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of an early 20th century father’s attempts to raise his five daughters in the Jewish tradition after immigrating to Imperial Russia. “(Bend It Like Beckham is) also about a dad and a daughter and (him) singing his way through all the emotional turmoil of trying to give freedom and a mom saying no, you can’t.
“They’re very similar,” she added. “It’s our Fiddler on the Roof, I think.”
Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical launches in North America with the support of Toronto-based live theatre production company Starvox Entertainment. Founder and CEO Corey Ross said that he was inspired to bring the show to Canada after discovering it while on vacation in London.
“I saw that it won best musical from the British Critics’ Circle, so that was enough to get me curious,” Ross said. “I went with my daughter, who at the time was 12, and we thought it was a wonderful experience.
“I thought, this is definitely something that has to come to Toronto. Toronto is the right multicultural market that would be open to premiering a show like this.”
The casting process is currently open and continues through the end of May. Both Ross and Chadha say they hope to find their stars locally and give them the opportunity to tour the continent with the production, which includes a run slated for Broadway in New York City.
“It can be a wonderful opportunity for Canadian actors,” Ross said, “especially Desi actors who don’t get a lot of opportunity on stage in musicals.”
“We have a whole Indian family to find,” Chadha added. “I believe that there’s a lot of talent here.
“Maybe our Jess is out there in Toronto right now. It’s always important to cast locally, so we’re going to try.”
Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical makes it North American premiere with a run at the Bluma Apple Theatre, part of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in downtown Toronto, from December 7 to 24, 2019. Single-ticket prices range from $49.95 for weeknight off-centre seats to $159.95 for weekend premium seats, and group discounts are available.
Tickets are on sale now through Ticketmaster and at BendItMusical.com.
Stephanie Wallcraft is an award-winning journalist based in Toronto who believes that Canada’s diversity is its strength.