It could have all been so different.
The Rahbani brothers, Assi and Mansour, founded and created one of the region’s most distinct and famous Arab theatre companies and with it a living legacy now continued by their sons.
In memory of their father, Marwan and Ghadi Rahbani wrote and directed the next piece of Rahbani Arab musical theatre, A Ard El Ghajar (On the Land of the Gypsies), which will enjoy its first show outside of Lebanon tonight (Thurs) in Dubai.
“My father and uncle knew the people of Lebanon,” said Marwan of his father. “They endured with them, understood the conflict, the fight, the struggle. He wanted to create someone for the people.”
In 1955 Assi married Nuhad Haddad, Fayrouz as she’s better known, and two became three.
The Rahbani brothers founded a Lebanese theatre style based on strong lyrics and visuals, something Marwan describes as the Arab world’s answer to the West End or Broadway. Plays include The Harvest Time, The Night and The Lamp, Hala and The King, Viva! Viva, Good Morning, The Keys’ Keeper, Paper People, Love Poem, Petra, He Rose on the 3rd Day and Zenobia.
“Don’t expect happy endings from Rahbani productions,” said Marwan. “Art is for entertainment but we create plays and productions which pose questions. They tackle social, political and religious issues and don’t necessarily give the answers. The actors open doors and windows for ideas but don’t give the solutions. That’s up to the audience. It’s how musicals and plays should be.”
Assi and Mansour weren’t always on the path of creative arts.
Born in the Lebanese coastal town of Antelias in 1923 and 1925 respectively, they grew up in a loving but strict family - a cane-wielding grandmother at the helm.
Assi joined the local police in Antelias and Mansour joined the judicial police in Beirut and life looked set.
Turned out a passion for Eastern music couldn’t be quashed and years of study. A stint at the Lebanese Broadcasting Station and many Lebanese songs later a very special artistic entity was formed.
In 1986, after almost 60 inseparable years, Assi died, plummeting Mansour into shock for more than 12 months. Finding the strength to carry on, Mansour grabbed the mantle and resumed his career with the help of his sons Marwan, Ghadi and Usama.
With more than 50 productions to the family’s name, Marwan explained the productions aren’t just for Arab speakers.
“The stories are strong visually which makes them accessible to all,” he said ahead of the Dubai show which takes place at Burj Park, Downtown Dubai. “Around 30 per cent of our audience is expats and we hope we can attract more in the future. The stories are easy to follow and show a different side of life in the Middle East which is worth being a part of.”
On the Land of the Gypsies follows the story of Arab emigrant Salvado Kozhaya Hussein who returns to his homeland to find his plot of land inhabited by gypsies. Salvado, played by Arab musical celebrity Ghassan Saliba, embarks on a struggle to claim back his land, a fight which exposes corruption and injustices of society and politics. However, the fight also leads him to find true love with gypsy Zeina – played by Aline Lahoud. Other famous faces include Paul Sleiman and Pierre Chamoun in a 70-strong cast of actors, singers and dancers.
• A Ard El Ghajar (On the Land of the Gypsies) will be staged tonight (Thurs), tomorrow and Saturday at Burj Park, Downtown Dubai. Tickets, from Dh200, are available from all Virgin Megastores.