One score and zero years ago, during a break while rehearsing a German-language production of West Side Story in which I mimed, warbled, and pirouetted along as of the Jets, the director held forth on the importance of selecting catchy titles for musicals: the shorter and simpler, the better, he explained, and he cited notable examples such as Hair, Fame, Grease, Cats, Chorus Line, and, of course, West Side Story.
Then he said Jeans would make a crack title and expressed surprise that no such show existed yet.
Speaking of “J,” may I suggest an even cracker title for a show that has yet to see the light of day:
What a great word. A debatable doctrine, to put it mildly, but the word itself rocks. It screams to to be gracing a marquee. (“We’ll be at Carnegie Hall on Thursday; we’ll see Tosca at the Met on Friday; and Saturday night, we got tickets for Jihad at the Gershwin.”)
Jihad. A musical about Islam. Think the Qur’anic response to Jesus Christ Superstar.
Besides being a snappy title, the concept of jihad (“struggle”) in all its complexities and manifestations—the good and the gory—furnishes ample material for riveting dramatization that must have composers and lyricists chomping at their creative bits all over the globe.
For instance, imagine a group of fully veiled and burqa-ed females in a Middle-Eastern town square launch into a dance number that starts out fairly tame, then builds up as the women gradually slough off their togs layer by layer, and culminates in an unbridled liberation striptease that causes all male bystanders’ jaws to drop down to their sandals in exasperation over such a public display of collective female insubordination to andric hegemony.
Or picture a scene in the cockpit of a jetliner: one of the hijackers is suddenly being overcome by second thoughts en route to the target and breaks into song as he questions the righteousness of his mission, scolds Allah for having demanded he sacrifice his life in this manner, and pleads with his accomplices to abort the attack as the towers are quickly approaching—a theme similar to that of the song Gethsemane in JCS, where Jesus, on the night before his crucifixion, waxes skeptical as to the purpose of his imminent death and beseeches God to spare his life (“Take this cup away from me / For I don’t want to taste its poison / Feel it burn me / I have changed / I’m not as sure as when we started”).
Surely, the two scenes I have just outlined do not represent the true essence of jihad nor of Islam as a whole, and you may argue that numbers of this kind—powerful as they may be from a dramaturgic perspective—would only serve to reinforce existing Islamophobic stereotypes, even when presented in the context of a more balanced presentation that would spotlight other facets of this monumental topic as well.
And perhaps including 9/11 motifs in a Broadway production, thus turning a fairly recent tragedy into family entertainment à la Titanic, would be in bad taste; but that’s probably more a matter of how it were done than of whether.
Be that as it may, Jihad could never get off the ground anyway, its snappy title notwithstanding. Not because it might offend people and stir up controversy, but because no one would produce or finance it, as there’s a good chance the theater would blow up.
For security reasons, Jihad would have to be conceived anonymously, rehearsed in secret, and shown at undisclosed locations only. No audience would ever get to see it (except the former vice president, who knows where all the undisclosed locations are), which sort of defeats the purpose of a putting on a show in the first place.
Here’s what I appreciate about modern Christianity:
I could turn the Bible into as many provocative productions as I wanted, and my chances of physically losing my head over it would be about equal to getting struck by an asteroid while jogging in a tunnel.
I could draw Jesus in a tutu and a funny hat, publish that picture in a book or on my website, and remain reasonably confident that I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my days in some one-horse town in the Kansan willywags under the aegis of the federal witness protection program.
On the other hand, Allah forbid I were to say or write or draw something potentially objectionable (perhaps even portions of this post—who knows?) that’s related to Islam and it reaches the wrong crowd or rubs some crazy mullah the wrong way—next thing I know, I might have three eyes: the two I’ve always had plus a giant bull’s eye on my forehead.
Too bad a killer title like Jihad must go to waste over personal and public safety concerns … or am I being unduly hysterical over a danger that may be, in fact, be far smaller than might be expected by those among us who’ve been watching too much Fox News?
For in fact, the catchy title hasn’t quite gone to waste. Some production called Jihad! the Musical actually did have two brief runs, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007 and at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London in 2010 respectively. Plugged as a “satirical romp about the war on terror,” it appears, though, the show was blown up (metaphorically speaking) by critics who didn’t take too kindly to the singing camels and all the other rompy gimmicks it featured (“… a cheery, cheesy bunch of opportunists who have come up with a great title but, unfortunately, haven’t located the show to go with it”) before any potentially disgruntled mullahs had a chance to order corrective action.
Bottom line, no blood was shed and no fatwas were issued in the wake of Jihad! the Musical. Could it be that anything short of depicting the Prophet is safe after all?
Either way, it would certainly be a lot safer to do Jeans instead:
They’re gonna fit me forever
I’m gonna learn how to fast
I feel us growing together
People will see me and scream
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky, I’m so lean
Hmm. Given the right cast, we may have a smash hit on our hands here…