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Aisle View: The New Group Attempts a Wacky Farce Musical Comedy

05/17/2013 05:15 pm ET | Updated Jul 17, 2013

Wouldn't it be hysterical to mix the romantic world of Bollywood musicals of the 1950s with the farcical world of Marx Brothers-like comedies of the 1930s? The short answer, at least as demonstrated by Bunty Berman Presents... at the Acorn on Theatre Row, is a strong and unequivocal no.

The purveyors of these wares are presumably in earnest. British-Pakistani playwright Ayub Khan Din has an impressive London track record. East Is East was produced at the Royal Court in 1997 and made into an award-winning film in 1999; Rafta, Rafta... opened at the Royal National Theatre in 2007, and is currently being filmed. Both plays were brought to New York by The New Group, where they were staged by artistic director Scott Elliott -- as a result of which it makes perfect sense that Elliott and The New Group would bravely forge ahead with Din's Bunty Berman... although one wonders whether they committed to a production before bothering to read what passes for the script.

The script, such as it is, has book and lyrics by Din -- apparently his first produced musical comedy -- with music by Din and Paul Bogaev, a Broadway conductor/arranger whose credits include Tarzan, Bombay Dreams and Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. The Bunty Berman libretto is a tattered joke book, and the score is sub-subpar.

It is simple to sit in the dark and take potshots, so we'll let said Mr. Din speak for himself via jokes we scribbled down in the dark.

Specimen A

Woman (commenting on the overweight, over-the-hill movie star): He's certainly past his salad days.

Man: He's past the days when he ate salad, that's for sure.

Specimen B

Screenwriter: You said yourself, you can't judge a book by its cover.

Producer: I said the same thing about "Mein Kampf."

Specimen C

Movie Star: Chutzpah.

Wannabe Actor: Chutzpah?

Movie Star: I'm Jewish.

Wannabee Actor: A Jew?

Movie Star: Gesundheit.

If nuggets of this ilk tickle your funny bone, there are plenty more chestnuts to be had at the Acorn.

As for the songs, the opening number -- a bouncy and peppy "It's Great to Wake Up in Bombay" ditty -- fills the stage with a cast of smiling caricatures including a one-armed hunchback beggar, swinging his (one) arm with abandon and swiveling his hips. A dire song early in the first act features the three unfunny comedians dressed like nuns in black burqas, doing the can-can. Yes, the can-can. The direst spot is something called "The Music of Amour," which is just about the worst number we've seen since the infamous shoe song that was cut from Spider-Man.

As for the staging, this is a show of cheap laughs. Like the one where the over-aged, overripe Movie Star takes off his panty girdle. Or the one where that same actor's head appears, sputtering, from the ass of a papier-mache elephant. But the whole shows looks mighty cheesy, albeit with a design team headed by the esteemed Derek McLane and William Ivey Long.

For those interested in more modernish plot twists, there's a mysterious veiled sexpot singer called Sandra and an exceedingly odd boy called Chandra, whose gangster father is enamored of Sandra and suspects she is having an affair with Chandra because Chandra smells of the same perfume as Sandra. Hmmm... You never see Sandra and Chandra onstage together, except at the curtain call.

Bunty Berman has had a rocky preview period, marked by the departure midway of the actor playing the title role. Due to an injury from a fall during a rehearsal, they said.) Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose, as a result of which they enlisted librettist/lyricist/co-composer Din to step into Bunty's sandals. Din started out as an actor; he remains best known for playing Sammy in Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi's 1987 film Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Mr. Din nowadays looks less like the Sammy who got laid and more like Ralph Kramden. But then, I don't suppose you or I look much like we did in 1987, either.

There are many, many, many jokes about "balls," plus one about a wise and aged "fakkir." It's that kinda show.