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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

New musical traces the history of Dubai

We meet the creators of Amazing Dubai, The Musical, which premiered at Madinat Theatre last week

Courtesy Amazing Dubai, The Musical
Courtesy Amazing Dubai, The Musical

Adjinn appears on stage, with fake snow swirling in the shadows around her. “Assalamu aleikum,” she says. “Shoo habibi? Snow in Dubai? Why, yes! In Dubai, you can have anything you wish. In Dubai, anything is possible.”

And so begins Amazing Dubai, The Musical, a theatrical endeavour more than 13 years in the making. Quickly, the cast launches into the opening number, singing enthusiastically about how “anything is possible in Dubai, we never stop reaching for the sky”, and how for an expat “the years they have flown, and now this is home”.

The song wraps up, a camel snort is heard, and the musical begins, with the opening scene set in the last 1800s. This is a story completely about the growth of Dubai from a small fishing village to the world’s most talked about metropolis, seen through the eyes of an Emirati family, and it starts right at the very beginning.

“The idea of a musical about Dubai has been an idea of mine for many, many years now,” admits Brian Wilkie, the show’s executive producer. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen, out of my love for Dubai and out of my love for the theatre.”

Courtesy Amazing Dubai, The Musical

So why not combine the two? Dubai can hold its place on the theatrical map, with an original English-language musical to call its own. After all, it has been immortalised in so many different ways already – from watch faces to clothing and art pieces and appearances in blockbuster films – so a musical was the obvious next choice.

Speaking at the premiere, held at the Madinat Theatre in Souk Madinat Jumeirah last week, Wilkie, who has lived in Dubai for more than 40 years, says he was always frustrated to find the city’s image abroad always associated with beaches, buildings and shopping malls, and felt theatre could help change that misconception.

“Dubai has a long, rich and varied history, and I was resolved to tell the story of this amazing place. Hence, Amazing Dubai.”

Sanjeev Dixit, the actor, theatre veteran and writer extraordinaire who came up with the music, the lyrics and the story, was the one who gave flight to Wilkie’s vision.

“I’ve been in theatre for as long as I can remember, starting back in Bombay during my childhood,” explains Dixit. “I feel I was primed to write this musical, I was in the perfect position to make it happen and I have that same love for Dubai that drives Brian. And here we are today.”

Certainly, the musical is a proclamation of love for the city. Wilkie doesn’t know how long the show will run for – “the next six months, or 12 months, or 18 months”, he says, daring to hope – but the dream is that it will become as synonymous to Dubai as the Burj Khalifa or the sand dunes.

Like the Tom Cruise film Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol immortalised Dubai on the silver screen, or like the annual Abu Dhabi-based Qasr Al Hosn festival tells the story of the UAE, the musical will also carry the responsibility of telling the tale of the city “where anything is possible”, as accurately as possible.

Dixit says the ultimate dream would be for the show to become a “must-do” for tourists and residents alike. “There’s something in the show for everyone. Someone who has no knowledge about the show whatsoever will love it, as will someone who lives in Dubai and loves theatre, plus everyone in between, including children,” he says. “It’s kind of like Dubai itself – there’s something in it for everyone.”

Dixit is not far off the mark. Little tidbits of information – on how Dubai was first settled, on how the decision to not introduce taxes propelled the city into becoming a leader in trade in the region, the history of a horrible storm in the early 1900s that changed the fishing industry, the rise and fall of the pearling industry, on how the Second World War and the subsequent war embargoes affected the region and even brought famine to the desert, and even how the dredging of Dubai Creek brought businessmen from all over the world to Dubai – all present an image of the city far removed from skyscrapers and record-breaking claims to fame.

And the icing on the cake is this: it’s never presented as a history lesson. ­Instead, it’s an absorbing and sometimes funny round-up of what makes Dubai, Dubai. “It’s really up to the audience to immortalise the show for us,” says Dixit. “It’s entertaining, fun and at the same time informative and historical. Some people didn’t know about the pearling effect or how involved Dubai was in the war and the consequences of it, some think it’s all about oil only.”

And just like the city itself, the musical will continue to evolve and change until it reaches its perfect form, admits Wilkie, who says the “show will always be a work in progress”. But the seed has been sown, and the chance to immortalise the city through a musical is there.

Tickets to Amazing Dubai, The Musical start from Dh75, for more go to www.madinatjumeirah.etixdubai.com

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