If you’re going to offend, you’d better do it using a massive chorus, a few good tap numbers and a rousing finale. See: The Producers. Musical theatre, with its protective coating of shmaltz, is often the perfect medium for some good, potentially offensive satire. It’s not satire if you’re not offending someone and sometimes it’s easier to get away with singing things than saying them. Add some glitter and a dance sequence and you can get away with practically anything. Aria Entertainment’s The Road to Qatar! is missing the excess needed to make its satire really zing, but this is a very good minimal version of a maximal show. The cast manages to make the jokes work, the music’s not bad at all and there are lots of references to classic musicals and the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road films. What’s not to like?
Michael and Jeffrey, (James Robert-Moore and Josh Rochford), two gay New York Jewish musical comedy writers, receive a commission from the Emir of Qatar. They need to write a Broadway musical featuring 100 West End actors, 30 Qatari camels, 20 Arabian stallions, the Bratislava Opera Chorus, Jennifer Lopez, 17 fire-eating Croatian acrobats, 30 Russian ballet dancers and five falcons. Oh, and Muhammad Ali. They have six weeks. The Emir flies them out to Qatar, where they meet hapless producer Mr. Mansour, his assistant Nazirah, and egomaniacal leading man Farid. Predictably, madness ensues.
The five-person cast does an excellent job with a musical clearly meant for more actors. Robert-More and Rochford, each doing his best Leo Bloom impersonation, are neurotically appealing. They are accompanied by a lonely keyboard and while I longed for an orchestra, the music’s still upbeat and the libretto is witty. Some of the best numbers include the eminently hummable ’Good Things Come in 3s’ and the gleefully awful finale ‘Aspire.’ The scant props are made of paper and the costumes are quite subdued, but The Road to Qatar! makes do with what it has. However, it really wouldn’t hurt to take a hint from the ‘Aspire’ lyrics: “You’ve gotta be big! You’ve gotta be brave! You’ve gotta aspire!” This musical cries out for over-the-top chorus numbers and ridiculous set pieces.
This show is risky - it’s asking if a part of the world known for intolerance can take a joke. With a premise like this, the ridiculousness needs to be piled on so we can all be entirely sure this IS a joke. The Road to Qatar! is a very new musical, and clearly this portable version is necessary to get it established. I can’t wait to hopefully see it someday in all of its cheesy, joyfully offensive Broadway glory. Meanwhile, there’s this lovely little sibling of a show here at the Fringe. Go see it.