Tag Archives: london

Theater: Nadia Manzoor, ‘Burq Off!’

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The colorful backdrop for Nadia Manzoor’s “Burq Off!” at Elephant Stages in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

Against a multicolored backdrop of glittery silk fabrics, Nadia Manzoor magically transformed herself into 21 diverse characters for three sold-out performances of her one-woman show, “Burq Off!” July 17-19 at Elephant Stages in Hollywood.

The 90-minute show follows Manzoor’s life, beginning when she was five years old and wanted to become an astronaut but was rebuffed by her father (“Who will feed your husband if you are floating about in space?”). It culminates during her university years with a poignant scene in which Manzoor’s twin brother Khurram, who has become an Islamic extremist, tells her that her straying from the Muslim lifestyle is the reason their mother died of cancer.

The story aims to inspire self-exploration and self-expression through Manzoor’s own experiences trying to define and make peace with her identity as a woman and as a Pakistani Muslim living in London.

Manzoor, who wrote and stars in the play, does a remarkable job of embodying all of the characters in her life using only her voice, her body and a few transformative pieces of fabric. It’s really not a one-woman show at all; it’s as rich as if there were a dozen different actors on the stage. It’s impressive to see everyone, from her ultra-stern Abbu (dad) to her white classmates at an all-girls school in England and the Irish bartender she falls in love with while attending Manchester University, come to life despite the minimal presentation.

The performance was, at times, mildly amusing, although not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the more gregarious audience members seemed to find it.

One of the most notable touches of “Burq Off!” was a parallel set of dance sequences during two pivotal moments in Manzoor’s life: the first time she wore a burqa in public and, later, the first time she stepped out in a bikini. Each garment was equally liberating for her in its own way — a freedom that could only be expressed through song and dance. Manzoor, who is also (apparently) a dancer, cleverly incorporated elements of Bollywood and hip-hop styles and combined them with her own comical delivery for very memorable musical asides.

The Elephant Stages theater excelled at designing a powerful and versatile set for Manzoor to work within and manipulate while telling her story. Just one table and a few chairs whisked the audience away to the dorm room in which Manzoor lost her virginity, the bar counter she vomited upon after getting drunk for the first time, the hospital bed where she last spoke to her Ammi (mom).

“Burq Off!” was a well put-together coming-of-age story and an honest examination of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a conservative Muslim home. It’s not a perspective that is heard often enough in the United States, and Manzoor’s strong talent makes her an all the more effective storyteller.

Live: Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour

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Miley Cyrus performs “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” with Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips at the Staples Center in February. SCREAMfmLondon

On May 6, Miley Cyrus plans to finally return to the stage, resuming her world tour in London after rescheduling an Amsterdam concert date and postponing the final leg of her US tour. The final US dates of the Bangerz Tour were pushed back until August, when Miley will perform nine additional concerts in the Eastern part of the states.

Earlier in April, Miley faced some considerable setbacks when her beloved dog died, causing her to have a pretty heartbreaking public meltdown. Shortly thereafter, the medication she was taking for a sinus infection caused a severe allergic reaction, and she had to be hospitalized for many days.

It’s a bummer to see her slowed down when the Bangerz Tour began with such incredible forward momentum.

I attended one of the first Bangerz Tour dates on Feb. 22 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. It was a truly impressive spectacle with enough costume changes, larger-than-life props and choreographed dance routines to make your head spin, really.

Anchored by Miley’s strong stage presence, her concerts are the perfect blend of both polished performance and off-the-cuff spontaneity. I was expecting some zaniness — I knew that she would enter via her trademark tongue-slide protruding from a giant projection of her own face, for example. She delivered zaniness and then some: she pretended to fellate a dancer dressed as Bill Clinton during “Party in the USA” and leaned off the stage to initiate a kiss with Katy Perry, who was in the audience, during “Adore You.”

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Protesters outside of the Bangerz Tour at the Staples Center. SCREAMfmLondon

About halfway through the concert, Miley migrated to another stage at the back of the venue, where a band was set up to play an unplugged cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, cheering and proudly clapping along from a few feet behind her. Not long after, Miley introduced Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, who approached the stage carrying large silver balloons in the shape of the words “FUCK YEAH” and dressed in a red cape, respectively.

Together, they performed an amazing cover of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and then they decided that they were drunk enough to do it a second time — so they did. And it was awesome.

The acoustic set, the old-school country and the unexpected cover songs are great elements of the Bangerz Tour. It’s the perfect way to remind the audience that Miley Cyrus isn’t all spectacle. She’s smart.

There is no doubt in my mind that Miley’s entire rebranding has been carefully planned from the moment the very first video of her twerking in a unicorn suit went viral in March of 2013. It’s kind of genius. And it’s been executed incredibly well. And, best of all, Miley has the talent and personality to back it up.

Ultimately, I am really rooting for her. Not only do I love her ability to get under the skin of the general public, but I am impressed with her in-your-face feminism, musical talent and down-to-earth attitude on- and off-stage. Of course, there are large elements of the media she’s produced that are problematic and worthy of criticism. But I think the “Bangerz” era is an important one in the evolution of pop music, and I would love to see her continue to grow and succeed.

Outside of the venue, middle-aged men with potbellies and bucket hats smugly unfurled signs that read “SMILEY VIRUS WILL WRECK YOUR LIFE” and “SLUTS, ETC. TRUST CHRIST OR END IN HELL!” One wore a shirt proclaiming him “Holygound Security” and shouted through a megaphone at the teenage girls walking past him that they were prostitutes and whores.

Somebody’s got to stand up to those guys.