There’s something hypnotic about the UAE. Perhaps it’s the fact that though there are swirling dunes on the horizon, there are also steel and concrete towers. And though once nomads braved the harsh weather to find oases, when they settled, they created cities of such power and grace that they still hold the vision of the world hostage.
Dubai, which was once a speck on the map, has grown to become a hub — of travel, of shopping, of dreams.
And yet, say the makers of Amazing Dubai, a musical that chronicles the city’s mad dash to progress, Dubai is so much more. It is also a place of history and culture, and positivity and resilience.
And to prove their point, they follow an Emirati family’s journey through the good times and the bad, from the 1800s to present day. The show debuts at Madinat Theatre on October 4, where it will enjoy a year-long residency.
Damascus-born actor Joseph Terterian, who plays Abu Nasr, one of the brothers who first wades ashore, says: “The musical is about how Dubai, this great city, became what it is now. Just from the very simple fishing community and now to this big metropolitan city that it is right now.”
He’s quick to point out that although he’s only been in the emirate for two years, he feels it’s already a part of him, and as for the musical, it has exercised his performance skills. “This role needs singing and acting and dancing at the same time,” he explains.
The part-entertainment, part-educational show is a lesson in the emirate of the grand Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world — and even the idea took about 10 years to germinate. Putting it together however required stamina; the production was cobbled together in only three months.
Writer-director Sanjeev Dixit explains: “Time has been the biggest challenge, because to put up something like this within three months from scratch — there are 13 compositions of songs and only two of them are covers of songs about Dubai from the ‘80s, the rest of them are all original compositions, and casting… getting everything ready in time for its launch is the most challenging aspect of it. [Plus there’s the question of] how do you tell this story? It tells the story of a city through a musical… you have to write songs that kind of propel the story forward; plus it’s about a 100 years.”
But the historical journey is one the cast heartily endorses. American actor Emily Nivia, who plays a genie — and the narrator — says: “It’s a very family-friendly show and I think that can be enjoyed by parents but also by kinds. There’s a lot of colour and action and movement, and I think it’s a really great opportunity for kids to realise that history can be exciting and there’s so much more to Dubai than maybe they’ve gotten to see only through present Dubai. I think kids would really love it.”
But it’s not just children who could benefit from a viewing, if Nivia’s experience is anything to go by; she knew some facts going in, but learnt many more salient truths about the land. “The impact of World War Two,” for instance, on the country, “the collapse of the pearling industry… the development of cultured pearls and Japan, and how exciting it was for them [the people of Dubai] but then realising, Oh what a devastating blow that really was for the pearling community and Dubai at the time.”
Emirati comedian Omar Esmail, who plays two characters, Hammad and his son Hamdan, says he was particularly happy because “being Emirati, it’s nice to see Emirati characters that I recognise [in the show].”
So magical creature, check; historical facts, check; funny moments; check.
Perhaps the story will turn out as mesmerising as the place.
Don’t miss it!
Amazing Dubai debuts at Madinat Theatre on October 4. Tickets for the show start at Dh75.