Singer-actress Anisha Nagarajan is also a composer. Produced by Andrew
Lloyd Webber, Bombay Dreams made its world premiere at London's Apollo
Victoria Theatre in June 2002. The musical concerns a "handsome
young slum-dweller and his dreams of becoming a Bollywood movie star."
Anisha Nagarajan and Manu Narayan will play the romantic leads in
"Bombay Dreams," the Bollywood stage musical produced by Lord
Andrew Lloyd Webber, right, that will open in April on Broadway.
The master showman responsible was Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, producer
of "Bombay Dreams," who has cast Nagarajan, from Fox Chapel,
and Manu Narayan, from Delmont, in the lead roles for the Broadway opening
next April. The petite Nagarajan with her rich voice will play Priya
Kumar; the tall Narayan will play Akaash, who rises from the slums of
Bombay to become a star in Bollywood movies.
To play leads in a big Broadway musical is dream enough -- plausible
for Narayan, a 1995 CMU grad who's been working professionally ever
since, but implausible for Nagarajan, who's just a sophomore at New
York University and hasn't yet performed professionally at all. But
to have their lengthy audition process and whirlwind workshop capped
with this gala performance goes dreaming one better.
Although both had been cast in New York auditions, the final approval
rested with Lloyd Webber, so they were brought to London for a two-week
workshop. On its second day, Lloyd Webber appeared and "everyone's
hair stood on end," says Narayan. After 15 minutes, musical director
Paul Bogaev came to say, "Manu, Anisha, come downstairs and sing
They headed down a long corridor. Nagarajan remembers Narayan saying,
"It's like being taken to the principal's office." "More
like the guillotine," joked Bogaev.
They sang their duet. "I couldn't ask for anyone more professional
or talented than Anisha," Narayan says. "I looked into her
eyes and she was rock solid."
Lloyd Webber applauded. Some 20 minutes later, director Steven Pimlott
asked if they'd be willing to sing for the president and prime minister
the following week. Later they heard that the queen would be there.
Lloyd Webber's people took them shopping for outfits -- for Nagarajan,
a black evening gown with Indian style shawl and probably glass slippers,
On the day of the dinner, after their usual rehearsal, they were taken
by van to the U.S. ambassador's mansion in Regent's Park. There was
an hour's wait while the guests finished dinner.
A duet at state dinner
Lloyd Webber opened the entertainment with a piano piece, followed
by three other singers. "Then Anisha and I came out," Narayan
says. "It was a really small dining room with maybe 45 people.
The first person I saw was President Bush." After their duet, they
joined with the others in a song from Lloyd Webber's "Whistle Down
the Wind." Then the ambassador's secretary arranged them in a receiving
"First out was Gen. [Colin] Powell and his wife," Narayan
recalls. The queen shook their hands and asked if they were in the London
"Bombay Dreams," then turned to recommend it to President
Bush, who asked them where they were from. The princes followed -- Philip,
Andrew, Charles -- the last two asking if they'd been nervous. Then
Michael Caine and his wife Shakira, David Frost, Condoleezza Rice. "She
was so charming and intelligent, I was taken aback," Narayan says,
admitting there was so much to take in, he can't recall who else was
The White House photographer took photos. Then Lloyd Webber treated
the performers to a late dinner at a posh new restaurant. "I had
David Frost and Andrew Lloyd Webber on either side of me," Narayan
says. "And coming from Pittsburgh, having been a CLO Mini-Star,
I've heard about Andrew Lloyd Webber for so long!"
Both performers come from suburban Pittsburgh. They have immigrant
parents, from the same part of India, who know each other through attending
the same Hindu temple. And they have been supported by their parents
in their unusual and risky career choices.
Internet ad leads to role
Nagarajan's father, Nandu, is a professor in the University of Pittsburgh
business school, and her mother, Geeta, works with people with disabilities.
They moved to Pittsburgh when Nagarajan was 2. She went to East Hills,
Winchester-Thurston and Allderdice, then spent a year in India.When
her family moved to Fox Chapel, she did her final three years of high
school there. A piano player since she was 3, having studied with Natasha
Snitkovsky at Duquesne University, she was offered scholarships to several
music schools, but she chose to go to NYU in drama.
Back in Fox Chapel in July, working at Old Navy, she was surfing the
Internet when she saw an audition call for ethnic Indians for "Bombay
Dreams." That audition led to three more as they gradually started
to consider her for Priya. (Her mother complained, "You're missing
so much school!")
Four hours after the last audition, "they called me on my cell
phone and told me I had the part. ... I went from thinking, 'What homework
do I have' to 'Who's my agent' -- a complete priority paradigm shift."
From CLO and CMU to Broadway
Narayan's parents, Badri and Vatsala Narayan, came to this country
in their 20s. He's an engineer; she, originally a teacher, works at
a bank. Growing up, young Narayan visited his grandparents in India
"every four or five years." While in high school, he was a
CLO Mini-Star, and he performed at a number of community theaters.
He graduated from Franklin Regional High School in 1991, then went
to CMU in music, with a double major in saxophone and voice. There had
been some talk of his going into engineering or medicine. But CMU's
Robert Page, who had directed him in the Junior Mendelssohn Choir and
was a respected mentor, urged his parents to give him a shot at music,
and they agreed.
His first professional job, "thanks to [the CLO's] Charlie Gray,"
was in "Fame" (1993), then he also did the CLO's "Mame"
and "Godspell." With a semester off his sophomore year to
study Indian classical music in India, Narayan didn't finish his classes
until the fall of 1995, by which time he'd already been cast in the
tour of "Miss Saigon," where he spent more than four years.
Realizing he needed more acting training, he took a leave in summer
1999 for a three-month course at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Mass.,
where he was invited back in 2000 to play Romeo.
Lots of regional theater work followed. His audition process for "Bombay
Dreams" was unusual only because it had to be squeezed in while
he was doing back-to-back-to-back jobs.
"It's been quite an incredible time here in New York -- as long
as I don't look at the money aspect."
A nice Broadway run would be some help in that regard