Review: “Siddhartha, The Musical” Offers Captivating Performance at Bel Air’s Vibrato Grill

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"Siddhartha, The Musical" was first performed at the maximum-security Opera Prison in Milan, Italy.

"Siddhartha, The Musical" was first performed at the maximum-security Opera Prison in Milan, Italy.

“Siddhartha, The Musical” is a theatrical adaptation of the classic novel by Herman Hesse. Following a successful European tour, concert versions of this production made their premiere in the U.S. on both coasts.

First, at 54 Below on January 23 and 24 in New York, and then at the Vibrato Grill Jazz in Bel Air on January 27 and 28.

Believe it or not, this musical production can trace its origins to a maximum-security prison in Milan. The Opera Prison contacted singer-songwriter Isabella Biffi in 2006 to conduct a musical workshop aimed to help rehabilitate its inmates. During the workshop, she established a musical theater program where all Opera prison inmates, even those with life sentences, participated as cast and crew. “Siddhartha, The Musical” is their latest project, and was transferred to a professional theatre in Milan where it received both critical and commercial praise.

I didn’t know what to expect from this production, and I have to admit, I was overwhelmed by the magnificent display of vocal talent on the stage. I had never seen anything like it. All 6 vocalists were absolutely magnificent, and each contributed their distinct sound to deliver a very powerful and moving performance.

Performances by Paolo Gatti and Katy Desario were particularly memorable. Gatti portrays The King, Siddhartha’s father, and his deep, operatic voice was an important factor to the production’s dramatic themes. Desario portrays Kamala, a prostitute Siddhartha meets in his epic journey, and her dancing and acting on stage set the tone for the production’s more sensual and passionate scenes.

Equally impressive were the virtuoso performances of musical director Beppe De Palma on piano, and Osvaldo Pizzoli on the flute, and Michaelangelo Nari as the narrator/Govinda. Nari, an accomplished theatrical actor in his own right, also sings in 5 languages.

Overall, the performance was very entertaining and powerful. The manner in which 6 characters and two musicians managed to present a entire theatrical production just through their voice and body language was very impressive.

“Siddhartha, The Musical” is produced by Gloria Grace Alanis, Fabrizio Carbon and Broadway International Entertainment (BIE).

Simone Genatt Haft, one of the founders of BIE, discusses what they aim to accomplish with this new venture.

“BIE is often a calling card in emerging economic markets. At this point in time, we have shows in development or production in 5 continents,” said Haft. “We have ‘Bruce Lee’ in China, ‘Siddhartha’ from Italy which is now crossing the Americas and is now headed to Mexico. We also have ‘Ice Age Live’ that’s going to Asia, and a global production of ‘Sound of Music,’ which will be launching in South Africa in February.”

BIE represents the expansion of Broadway Asia, which is one of the largest production, management, licensing and touring companies of live entertainment throughout the Asia Pacific region. BIE will focus on production, management and theatrical consulting services beyond Asia. Productions by Broadway Asia partners have played in 400 cities and in over 40 countries on five continents, and have earned more than 50 global theatrical awards over the last 20 years.

Past productions include many Tony Award® winning musicals including “The Sound of Music,” “The King and I,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray,” “Legally Blonde,” “West Side Story,” “The Addams Family,” “Rock of Ages,” “Fuerzabruta,” “Stomp,” “Cookin,” “SpongeBob Squarepants Live,” among others.

When asked which countries have been elemental to the company’s growth in cultivating theatre on an international level, Haft says that Asian and South American nations have been quite supportive.

“China is paramount because it is important to the rest of the world, it has so much influence over everything. They have a great obsession with Broadway musicals, which started around 2003. At that time, arts’ focus shifted from propaganda to expansion. So China was a very influential market in terms of change,” said Haft. “The other ones would probably be Brazil and Argentina, when looking at it from a global perspective. They do an enormous amount of musicals, and they have a very vibrant culture there in terms of theatre. Also Korea, [because] it’s been  huge market. They have a tremendous passion for theatre. They are also a very young audience, most are 20-somethings, and the producers are as well. We first went into Korea 20 years ago, and in perspective, they went from 40 small off-Broadway venues, to 400.”

Haft also discussed the company’s main focus areas and their work with talent abroad.

“We’re very open-minded about expansion into the global market, we always have been,” he said. “We follow the path of the demand, and Broadway is an indicator of a country coming into its own.

“For us, I would say the areas of more focus are in the emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India. That’s where we tend to focus our mission and what we’re doing. We have a cross- cultural bridge. My partner and I  are both originally Broadway producers, we’ve had a lot of shows run on Broadway in New York. So we both take shows to those parts of the world, as well as really focusing on developing shows with local artists and local partners, like we’re doing with the Italians.”

Edison Millan is a Senior Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @edison_millan
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