Performing Arts


The Fringe Festival invades Edinburgh, Scotland, every August, giving amateur theater productions and stand-up comedians a chance to make a name for themselves. One of this year's big draws has been a controversial American production called "Jihad: The Musical." So far, the show has received rave reviews and no death threats.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: If we're supposed to be living in the age of political correctness, someone clearly forgot to tell the writers of "Jihad: The Musical." Billed as a madcap gallop through the wacky world of international terrorism, it tells the story of Afghan peasant called Sayid al Boom. Despite the best efforts of his sister Shazzia, Sayid is recruited by a smooth-talking Islamic fundamentalist in a pinstripe suit called Hussein Al Mansour.

Hussein, played by New York actor Sorab Wadia, lights up the stage with a chorus line of high-kicking women in pink burqas, singing "I Wanna Be Like Osama."

(Soundbite of "I Wanna Be Like Osama")

Mr. SORAB WADIA (Actor): (Singing) I wanna be like Osama. I wanna bomb a path to fame across the Earth. I know people may abhor me. But thank God they won't ignore me when the CIA determines what I'm worth.

GIFFORD: The show's satire is not just reserved for the terrorists. The naive Sayid travels to America. There, he meets a cable news reporter named, wait for it, Foxy Redstate. Foxy needs a big scoop about scary Muslim terrorists in order to get the anchor job she craves. And as the musical goes on, the American right-wing press gets skewered by the shows writers, Ben Scheuer and Zoe Samuel.

Scheuer, a 25-year-old writer and musician from New York, says he's not equating the American right with terrorists. But in the show's final duet, he is saying they feed off each other.

Mr. BEN SCHEUER (Writer, "Jihad: The Musical"): Hussein Al Mansour, the terrorist, and Foxy Redstate realized that in order to both get the fame they want, they're going to - Hussein's going to plan the bombing and Fox's going to film it. And they say, I was foolish to doubt you because I can't live without you. You're the best opposition for my cause. You're the nemesis I dream of.

You're the reason that my team of angry millions wave their flags to give me rabid applause. And we are finally going to be in a holy war alliance, where we're guaranteed compliance with religion over science. we're the overarching giants. There's a line that we're both selling. And it's perfectly compelling for an audience who will hate you by default.

GIFFORD: Lyrics of this and other songs such as "Axis of Freedom" and the "Jihad Jive" all have the whiff of Cole Porter or Frank Lesser. Gazing dreamily at his new love, who's dressed in a full burqa with just a slit for her eyes, Sayid sings, your eyebrows are so high-brow and full of grace. There's a magic in the top part of your nose. But Osama Saeed of the Muslim Association of Britain says Muslims are weary of being associated with terrorists, even in jest.

Mr. OSAMA SAEED (Muslim Association of Britain): Muslims are urged to condemn terrorism more and more, and we do that. But when people try and fuse us together with terrorism, such as they've done in this play, it's incredibly frustrating because it tussles back.

GIFFORD: Ben Scheuer says he's not mocking Islam. He is mocking terrorists. And the Edinburgh audiences, people like Jackie Broadfoot and Lisha Davidson, seem to think the subject is fair game for satire.

Ms. JACKIE BROADFOOT (Edinburgh Audience Member): It's terrorism. We shouldn't be cowed into living our lives in absolute fear. We shouldn't have to do that. There should be freedom to laugh at religion. I mean, it's not a holy cow.

Ms. LISHA DAVIDSON (Edinburgh Audience Member): I thought it was fantastic. There is a really shockingly stupid, ridiculous side to it, and making you laugh. And it makes you think about it in a different light.

(Soundbite of "I Wanna Be Like Osama")

Mr. WADIA: (Singing) I wanna be like Osama. I wanna wear designer clothes beneath the robe. While my (unintelligible) like vultures, I'll declare a clash of cultures. Kill civilians by the millions round the globe. Grow beard down my navel, conquer YouTube, get on cable and be wealthier than any man I know. Please make me like Osama B. with an al-Jazeera show.

GIFFORD: The show runs until the 27th of August, when the cast heads back to New York to try to stage "Jihad: The Musical" there.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Edinburgh.

SIEGLE: You can hear more tunes from "Jihad: The Musical" at

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