'Kite on the Wind' Tethered by Its Script
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The new family musical "Kite on the Wind: A Tale of Pakistan" could badly use the grace and buoyancy its title imagery implies.
The show -- a collaboration among the Kennedy Center, the Embassy of Pakistan and the Pakistan National Council on the Arts -- boasts admirably lofty aspirations: to introduce children to both the culture and demographics of a country that is much in the news. But tethered as
it is to Kim Hines's exceptionally clunky script, this souped-up social studies lesson can't soar very high.
Admittedly, on opening weekend, the kid-dominated audience that filled the Kennedy Center's Family Theater appeared fully absorbed by the hour's worth of song, dance and perfunctory narrative. (The Kennedy Center recommends the show for children 9 and older, which seems apt.)
"Kite" tells how a few magical friends, including a talking parrot and two characters from Pakistani folklore, help an academically underachieving schoolboy named Shahab (Bazil Tariq) acclimate to his new home in Lahore. During that rocky process, Shahab manages to persuade his contrarian father, Rashid (Michael Kramer), to let him take up kite-flying, a particularly popular pastime there.
Along the way, Shahab also manages to complete a homework assignment involving the ethnicities of Pakistan -- a device that allows the musical's creators to crowbar a lot of edifying facts into the script. During the course of "Kite," we learn about the Pashtun and the Punjabi, about the spring festival of Basant, and about the classical poetry form the ghazal.
In one of the zestier lessons, Shahab's folktale-derived pals Pate and Karamay (Nathaniel P. Claridad and Tony Nam), gorgeously dressed in colored silks and feathers, demonstrate a traditional martial-flavored dance, sparring with scarlet handkerchiefs instead of swords. (The choreographer, Tehreema Mitha, is also the primary composer and lyricist for the show's songs, which are in Punjabi and Urdu. Holly Hynes designed the costumes.)
The most vibrant element of the production, without question, is the trio of terrific musicians -- Shubha Sankaran, Humayun Khan and Haroon Alam -- who sit at one side of the stage, singing and playing the sitar and other South Asian instruments. By comparison, the actors seem awkward and wan, largely on account of the stilted dialogue (in one typically sputtering passage, Pate and Karamay learn to say "Cool!").
Claridad and Nam manage to generate a few enjoyably roguish moments as the fairy-tale youths, and Saskia de Vries is sprightly as the story's only wholly successful character: Fatima, a market vendor who speaks in rhyme. Tariq, who attends school in Fairfax County in his offstage life, does a valiant job with the underwritten role of Shahab (several other young actors play Shahab's schoolmates and sister). Kramer's portrait of Tota, the talking parrot, fails to take wing.
Designer Alexander Cooper's brick-rooftop set, papered here and there with posters of Bollywood-style film stars and backed by a crowded cityscape, stands in for Shahab's home, his schoolroom, a marketplace and a cricket field.
It is certainly wonderful for D.C.-area children and parents to be able to visit such locales, if only in imagination, and in our tension-ridden world, cross-cultural understanding needs to be encouraged. But it's a shame that "Kite on the Wind" -- blessed with marvelous music and crammed with educational material -- lacks a top-drawer script.
Kite on the Wind: A Tale of Pakistan, written by Kim Hines, conceived and directed by Deirdre Kelly Lavrakas; with choreography, musical direction, music and lyrics by Tehreema Mitha; lighting design, Colin K. Bills; sound, Kevin Hill. With James Konicek and Fatima Quander. Recommended for ages 9 and older. One hour. Through Saturday at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or visit http:/