Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Road to Qatar: More Wandering In The Desert - This Time For Laughs

The Road to Qatar, now playing at the York Theater, is an entertaining - occasionally hilarious - new musical that tracks the journey of two New York Jewish writers to create a musical comedy extravaganza for the Emir of Qatar. Unfortunately, the musical, based on the real experiences of the writers Steven Cole and David Krane, ends up as more a series of songs and jokes than an engaging story. Often very funny jokes, but ultimately the show lacks resonance after the lights come up.

James Beaman and Keith Gerchak play the authors; two slightly down on their luck writers, when an offer appears from a Middle East benefactor out of the blue. Mr. Beaman plays the out-going free spirit Michael, who convinces the more cautionary Jeffery, played by Mr. Gerchak, to go on this adventure. It is an adventure that they fantasize will end up like a Bob Hope Bing Crosby classic, and in many ways it does.

Sarah Stiles, Bill Nolte, James Beaman, Keith Gerchak, and Bruce Warren.
Photos: Carol Rosegg

They are quickly whisked to Dubai, given a rather impossible deadline and put up in a suite at the Burj al-Arab – the only 8-star hotel in the world. There they meet a trio of Arabs. Mansour, the Egyptian producer and general manager, is played well by Bill Nolte. Prince Farid, a member of the Emir of Qatar’s extended family, and self styled movie star, wonderfully overplayed by Bruce Warren. (Mr. Warren doubles as a flamboyant gay Italian director, in some very funny scenes.) Most memorable is Nazirah, a wide eyed newly hired secretary and assistant, played by Sarah Stiles.

Ms. Stiles steals every scene she is in. In the opening bits, Ms Stiles looked like she might be wasted as eye-candy, but she runs with every bit, line and crazy costume the writers throw at her. She is a joy to watch every moment she is on the stage. The bit where Nazirah is translating between the obstinate Prince and the two writers is priceless.

The problem with The Road to Qatar is exactly the same problem that the writers have with the show within a show, Aspire – things happen, but a series of stories and situations isn’t a musical. It’s a bit ironic that the writers make a funny bit about the lack of conflict in the story they are given to produce, but they proceed down the same unfortunate path in their own show.

It is effectively directed by Phillip George, and moves at a snappy pace. The minimal production design (by Chris Kateff) works fine with the props and transitions, but the sets are a little too early-Flintstones. The set styling combined with some questionable portrayals of the Arabs tread the line between comedy and condescending. These Arabs aren’t terrorists, but they are bumbling, nouveau riche hicks with more money than sense. It is a joke that wears thin towards the end of the evening.

All in all, The Road to Qatar is a funny, albeit occasionally repetitive, send up of a funny escapade; but it fades quickly from memory.


The Road To Qatar
Director: Phillip George
Book & Lyrics: Stephen Cole, Music: David Krane
Cast: James Beaman, Keith Gerchak, Bill Nolte, Sarah Stiles, Bruce Warren

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