Bringing the razzmatazz back to theatres in January is Nida Butt’s Made-For-Stage Productions with their rendition of Grease. We all remember Grease, of course: a raunchy John Travolta and a doe-eyed Olivia Newton John crooning all the way through their high school romance until they drive happily away into the sunset. Grease was your typical teen romance peppered with fabulous songs – and John and Olivia certainly knew how to shake a leg to them. Now imagine the magic reenacted on a stage before you, with live music, well-choreographed dancing and a very good-looking ensemble cast. It promises to be a musical extravaganza, right up Made-For-Stage’s alley. Better yet, it’s all very official, this time around.
“We bought the copyrights for Grease before we decided to show it on stage,” says Nida. “It’s very easy to just pick up the script of a popular Western musical and show it at a theatre without getting permission from the original creators. So far, theatre groups in Pakistan have managed to evade legal action but that still doesn’t make it right. The copyrights to Grease were very expensive. The movie has a cult following and the Theatre Rights Worldwide organization refused to allow concessions on its price. Still, I really wanted to bring the musical to stage – and to go about it legally.”
Was she helped in paying the hefty fees by the multinational sponsors that have inevitably played a major role in spurring Pakistani theatre on? “No, we paid it completely by ourselves. We do hope to make profits or at least break-even by the help of sponsors, though,” she laughs.
Does this mean that ticket prices will be expensive? Unfortunately, they just might be although Nida is yet to get down to the nitty-gritties.
Still, getting copyrights is a precedent that Nida has set – not just for other thespians but also for herself. Barring the original Karachi that she put out two years ago, her earlier musical productions Mamma Mia and Chicago were both ‘borrowed’ without permission and shown to packed houses locally. “When we staged Chicago, the company that holds the play’s copyrights contacted us via e-mail, asking us why we hadn’t asked for permission. When we explained that we were working in conjunction with a charity, they allowed us to continue. The same thing happened with Mamma Mia. It made me realize that the world is now a global village where everything is laid out in the open via the Internet. Even when staging a Broadway musical to a limited audience in Pakistan, it is important to obtain copyrights.”
The copyrights also enable Made-For-Stage to take Grease further, if they want. “We can set our sights at newer audiences, a place like Dubai, perhaps,” says Nida. “Provided that the play is successful during its initial run in Karachi, of course.”
If Nida’s earlier musicals are anything to go by, Grease looks exciting. The stage is set for some ‘Greased Lightning’ with Ayesha Omer in the lead as the love struck Sandy, Sanam Saeed – who’s become quite a regular feature in Nida’s plays – as the tongue-in-cheek Rizzo and Islamabad-based Ahmed Ali as our swaggering hero. “Ahmed has acted in theatre before but this is the first time he’s worked with us,” says Nida. “He has incredible diversity.” Sanam Saeed, of course, has become quite a regular feature in Nida’s plays. Ayesha Omar who has never really stood out for her TV roles despite the success of Bulbulay may just floor us on the stage as the singing-dancing Sandy. It’ll be interesting to see her sing live, especially since she’s won a Lux Style Award for ‘Best Singer’ this year – an accolade which was heavily critiqued since her album didn’t exactly skyrocket amongst the masses.
There’s going to be a live orchestra sitting right next to the stage, typically of Made for Stage – unlike other theatre groups, they refuse to just pop in a CD in order to churn out a musical. With Nida’s husband and Coven lead Hamza Jafri playing music director and vocal coach and Nida co-choreographing the dances with Abdul Ghani, there’s a hugely talented entourage working on this production. True, there won’t be any of the ‘Pakistaniat’ that one has grown to relish in the plays orchestrated by the other mainstream theatre group in the country – Kopykat Productions spearheaded by Dawar Mehmood with scripts by Anwar Maqsood – but Grease isn’t making any professions towards nationalism in the first place. It is, simply, a musical odyssey emulating the glamourama of Broadway onto the Pakistani stage – a niche that Made for Stage has certainly carved for itself.
Yet it’s been nearly two years since Nida put out her last musical, Karachi. Why the long sabbatical? “We stayed busy with smaller non-musical productions, like Carnage and The Pillowman,” she says. “It takes time to conceptualize and then orchestrate a large-scale musical.”
And while her efforts to gain copyrights are admirable, why didn’t she opt to stage another original, like Karachi The Musical? “I want to keep bringing diversity to theatre,” says Nida. “I do plan to produce more original musicals in the future but I also absolutely love Grease I just had to bring it to stage.”
Let us know how anxiously are you waiting for “GREASE”