You’ve probably seen the posters featuring a half-naked man covered in oil- exactly what Herman Hesse had in mind when he wrote his classic philosophical novel. That alone should give an idea of how little this production has to do with its source material- if you’re a philosopher, a Buddhist, or anyone with a modicum of taste you will find this show deeply offensive. If you’d like to see an hour-and-ten-minute version of Italy’s Eurovision entry, this is it. Embrace the camp, eyeliner and general sense of being on crack; this is a seriously delightful mess.
This show is a hot mess and you will love it.
This is an Italian musical based on a German novel and styled after Bollywood dance films. The smorgasbord of cultures is blissfully tasteless at times. Most of the cast is wearing bronzer and/or headscarves. The plot- is there a plot? Does it matter? These are philosophical questions we must address- it has a vague something to do with Hesse’s novel and the origin myth of the Buddha. We open with Old Siddhartha, played by the American television star Michael Nouri, who has the grim expression of a man who’s being paid but not enough, spouting about inner peace. Next we meet Young Siddhartha (soap star Giorgio Adamo, brooding up a storm), a wealthy young prince with a lot of existential malaise and blue eyeshadow.
Siddhartha is joined by gyrating backup dancers after some plot development (wealth, malaise, eyeshadow, etc). Say what you will about the rest of this tacky musical, the dancing is superb. The opening fight sequence and Siddhartha’s imprisonment involve stunning, powerful choreography employing bamboo staffs. The recorded, piped-in music is atrocious and only the leads actually sing. The chorus just lip-synchs. However the vocalists are all excellent, particularly the operatic Paolo Gatti as Siddhartha’s father. When Gatti strolls through the audience, singing in his ringing baritone voice, this production briefly approaches something resembling art.
Siddhartha sets out to conquer his malaise, put his hair in a bun (the spiritually enlightened wear their hair up) and runs into the holy man Gautama, who looks a bit like Gene Wilder in a turban. Next, he falls in love with the beautiful Kamala, a maiden who lives in a flower garden. The flower garden turns out to be a nightclub populated by pleasant young men wearing very short silk dressing gowns. This show is light on the philosophy, heavy on the sex. It’s oh-so-Italian; could anyone else get away with this? The lyrics are in Italian but the apparently Google-translated subtitles are helpfully projected. Lyrical highlights include Siddhartha! Yeah! and Life! Life! Life! It’s generally a grand time, made only better by the projections, which either feature heavily pixelated screensaver landscapes or animations of fireballs and sparkly mandalas. The plot continues with plenty of breaks for dance numbers and some world-class emoting. Siddhartha meets a boatman and there is some discussion of rivers (“Rivers are like life! Life! Life! ). Things finally wrap up with some death and angst and more sexy dance numbers about love and inner peace.
This show is a hot mess and you will love it if you are sufficiently tipsy and in the right company for watching this unapologetically Orientalist overdose of camp. You know who you are- no one’s judging you. Well, just a bit.