Diversionary Theatre is winding up its 30th season with the most impressive production the University Heights company has offered in recent memory. It’s a world premiere musical (book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, music by Tim Rosser) called The Boy Who Danced On Air, a mingling of trenchant storytelling, often-affecting music and ethereal choreography.
The premise is on its face a brutal one: In modern-day Afghanistan, the tradition of Bacha Bazi is still being practiced. Young boys are purchased by older men, trained as dancers and singers, and used in private to satisfy the sexual urges of their “mentors.” Then, when the boys are old enough to grow facial hair, they are discarded into an arranged marriage. According to the Diversionary production’s program notes, the practice, once punishable by death in Afghanistan, remains illegal but is basically ignored by the law.
In The Boy Who Danced On Air, directed by Tony Speciale, two boys named Paiman (Troy Iwata) and Feda (Sittichai Chaiyahat) fall in love and revolt. Neither knows any life beyond “dancing boy” until they discover each other, the results of which bring violent consequences.
While the score can be overwrought and expository at times, it is frequently touching, allowing audiences to feel not only what Paiman and Feda are feeling, but also Paiman’s purchaser, Jahandar (Jonathan Raviv), a man at odds with his own emotions and with the obligation to the exploitative tradition. Unseen in the wings is a four-piece band, with musical direction by Cris O’Bryon.
The pulse of the story is Paiman, and Iwata is worthy of the responsibility. He brings earnestness and grace to the role. Chaiyahat is no match for Iwata as a singer, but the stage chemistry is credible. Meanwhile, Raviv’s Jahandar is both a fearful and introspective figure, in either case projecting sharp intensity.
The Boy Who Danced On Air is uplifted, too, by the choreography of Nejla Y. Yatkin, and Shirley Pierson’s costumes further the illusion that you are in the Afghan world. In the case of this show, you’re in a world you probably never knew existed.
The Boy Who Danced On Air runs through June 12 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $25-$45. diversionary.org
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