David Baddiel and Erran Baron Cohen. Photograph: Robert Day
David Baddiel and Erran Baron Cohen. Photograph: Robert Day

A film about a British Muslim who discovers he is Jewish has been made into a musical, on now at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

The Infidel, released in 2010, was created by David Baddiel, who claimed to have written the controversial life-swap comedy in part because “people are terrified about race and religion, especially issues surrounding Muslims and Jews, and when people are terrified, what they really should do is laugh”.

A musical, however, needs more than laughs. Music and – more specifically – songs, are generally required. For that, Baddiel unsurprisingly turned to the man who scored the original film, Erran Baron Cohen.

Baron Cohen, the 46-year-old elder brother of Ali-G and Borat creator Sacha, has had a long career in music as a composer and trumpeter. He has toured the world with his group Zohar, who are signed to Miles Copeland’s Ark 21 label, and wrote scores for Borat and Bruno.

Although writing the film score meant he was already familiar with The Infidel, turning it into a musical was not a case of adapting existing material.

“It’s completely new work, although the central idea is the same and some of the funny scenes we have kept. We’ve tried to emphasise some different aspects that weren’t really explored in the movie.”

The film makes great hay at lampooning cultural and religious differences, but while there are touches of Jewish and Arabic influences in the music, Baron Cohen insists that’s “not the thrust of it”.

“The basic set-up is a rock band and the music is not really ‘ethnic’ in any way,” Baron Cohen explains. “The main character is Muslim but he’s a guy who listens to rock music so why wouldn’t he be singing in that way as well?

“He’s friends with a Jewish taxi driver who doesn’t know much about Judaism though he is Jewish. He’s just a normal guy who lives in London. It’s quite a London story and part of it is that it’s not the stereotypical thing, we felt we didn’t need too much of that influence musically in the style.”

With songs for the musical including one entitled ‘Sexy Burka’ and another called ‘Put a Fatwa On it’, it’s clear David Baddiel, who wrote the song lyrics as well as the script, doesn’t suffer from over caution.

“They sound quite out there but the songs are actually very positive,” says Baron Cohen. “We have a very positive view of a friendship between a Muslim guy and Jewish guy as we look at the similarities and differences between two religions and identities.”

Although not a novice songwriter, Baron Cohen has more experience as a composer for film. Baddiel, however, rates Baron Cohen’s melodic talents so highly that he suspects he might have been doing the “wrong thing” in his career to date.

“It’s an interesting point,” says Baron Cohen, diplomatically. “I think it is a compliment though it’s somehow slightly depressing. I’ve done lots of things and I’ve been lucky that the career keeps moving in a direction that I don’t always expect. I’d certainly love to write more musicals so I suppose what me and David will have to do is to write another one so that I’m not wasting any more time.”

The Infidel – The Musical is at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, E15 1BN www.stratfordeast.com

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