LONDON — "Bend It Like Beckham" has scored with critics in London.
A new stage musical based on the 2002 film about aspiring female soccer players has opened to rave reviews. The musical is directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, who also made the movie, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart.
Most reviewers adored its warm heart and good humor, catchy songs infused with bhangra rhythms and Bollywood-influenced choreography by Aletta Collins.
Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish gave it five stars out of five Thursday, calling it "melting-pot Britain on one irresistible plate." The Independent's Paul Taylor said it was "the most irresistibly joyous musical-theatre make-over" since the hit "Billy Elliot."
Michael Billington in the Guardian had some reservations, admiring Goodall's "delightfully eclectic" score but faulting the show as a "wish-fulfilling fairytale" that glossed over serious social problems.
But the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts gave it another five-star rave, calling it "end-to-end entertainment, full of feisty shimmers and heart- stopping melodrama."
The story unfolds in 2001 in the multicultural Southall area of west London. Eighteen-year-old Jess idolizes David Beckham but must keep her membership on a soccer team secret from her traditional Sikh parents, who want her to study hard and then marry.
She's befriended by Jules, whose mother also doesn't understand her, and both are mentored by Joe, a once-promising player whose career was ended by injury.
So far, so formulaic — but like a successful sports team "Bend It Like Beckham" has heart as well as skill. The show deftly solves the problem of depicting sports action onstage and includes real female soccer players among its singing, dancing performers.
The predominantly South Asian cast is uniformly excellent. Natalie Dew is innocent and fiery as Jess, while Lauren Samuels makes a sparky Jules (played by Keira Knightley in the movie). Preeya Kalidas has tremendous vocal power as Jess's flaky older sister, Pinky, while Jamie Campbell Bower, a veteran of the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" movies, is a sweetly likable Joe.
The parents have some of the most moving songs. As Jess's father, Tony Jayawardena wrings understated pathos from "People Like Us," a bittersweet ballad about blunted promise. Jules's mother Paula (a mischievous Sophie-Louise Dann) excels on "There She Goes," about a child growing up.
The show is opening as England's women's soccer team is still competing in the World Cup in Canada. Score it a victory for the made-in London home team.
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