This blog post is just in time for the UAE’s 46th National Day happening today! For those of us expats who were born here (including me) and are probably second and third generation, you’ll know what I feel  – excitement that we’ve grown alongside the country that was born in the early 1970s. That resurrects a lot of memories of the days that I, as a little girl, was of the celebrations in Abu Dhabi, as my parents and siblings would walk to the Abu Dhabi Corniche, sit on the grass, and enjoy the lights that set the buildings aglow.

But, first, let’s fast track to why you should watch the Amazing Dubai musical. Here’s a bit of a backgrounder.


The background

Amazing Dubai tells the story of a boy named Nasser, born into a small fishing community in the 1800s in Dubai. Through the musical, his life unfolds in tandem with the destiny of Dubai, as if both were entwined with each other. From a small pearl trading village to a sophisticated city with several global successes to its name, Nasser’s life somehow reflects the same growth and success of the city, experienced by both the locals and the expat population that have made Dubai their home. If you’re visiting Dubai for the first time, this musical should be your first port-of-call if you really want to learn about Dubai’s history, heritage and its transformation to the city we know as today.

And what’s a musical without a touch of magic? Emily Nivia, who plays the genie knows just how to attract the attention of the audience, into the journey of Dubai from the 1800s through its independence as part of the United Arab Emirates, into 2017 and beyond. In our email conversation, I asked her what was her motivation as she delivered a compelling genie performance. She said, “Storytelling is a vibrant act that brings me great joy especially when delivered onstage. In this production and role in particular, I’ve been reminded that it is the people who make the city so special. Although my character is magical and we’re telling the story of a city renowned for its futuristic innovations, the heart of this place (and of the play itself) is the people. The relationships and vision forged here have defined this place in ways that oil and gold never could.”

I’ve got three reasons to share with you as to why you should not miss the show at any cost (and hey it’s only 46 AED at this point in time). Here goes!

#1 Home grown acting and musical talent right here in Dubai

For someone who grew up here and was part of the theatre and music scene all those decades ago, I found it real soothing that this city brings home the fact that while development of a city in terms of infrastructure and booming economy is all well and good, the development of communities in the area of art, music and performance is just as important as that is what sustains the heart of the people on many levels. While I don’t know any of the artists, they did a wonderful job in bringing to life the Dubai I knew as a child and the Dubai I know now as an adult.  Authentic performance with the a good handle on mastering the Emirati accent and what with Dubai being multicultural, the cast comprised a good mix of nationalities –  a hearty representation of expats living here.


Dubai arts and music

The genius drags us into her world, into the world of old Dubai.


It also dawned to me that several actors and team members may have lived in this city for decades, after all, how is it possible to capture some of the things that remain close to my heart, clippings of the late Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid? In an email interview, I asked Brian Wilkie, founder and executive producer of the musical what it felt to see a city that’s evolved these part 46 years. He said, “To actually live in a place where history is being made around you, where you’re encouraged to dream big and succeed and where locals are supportive of talent you see around. Many of us are expats who gave up the security in our own homeland to move to the UAE so that we could build a life for ourselves and our families. And the success of Dubai couldn’t have happened without the vision and leadership of its rulers. That’s why I wanted to tell, residents, locals and tourists alike a fascinating story through music and performance.”

#2 A good use of photo collage as backdrop to help in the musical narrative

I, for one grew up when the UAE was still a very young country and I still remember the trips through the desert from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. We knew were in Dubai when we saw the globe of the Dubai World Trade Center at a hazy distance.

What the musical does is not only deliver brilliant and believable acting, song and dance, there’s a clever use of photographs as you can see in the photos below. Several of these photos and videos made me almost choke with nostalgia as I remembered them, especially when the UAE National Anthem was played as part of the scene depicting the UAE’s independent. The other example of how effective the use of such as backdrop was, is when the pearl divers mount the ‘boat’ and go out to sea, and weather the storm for the sake of feeding the family. A brave, yet heartbreaking image of how they risked their lives for their family’s wellbeing.


Standing to attention when the UAE gains independence in 1971


#3 Riveting songs and lyrics

This might seem trivial to some but the song ‘Hello, Marhaba, it’s life in the Emirates’ was incorporated into the musical. I remember singing to this song when I was but a little girl and it felt strange but wonderful to hum (well, no one was sitting next to me) to the tune as they put on the show and dance. I’m so glad that they made it a point to bring back some of the old tunes that sing the praises of this country into the musical. Very clever indeed.  See below for the snippet of the tune.

There's a reason I've not put up the blog post on my opinion of the @amazingdubaimusical just yet. Thought it would be amazing to get it live tomorrow, just in time to celebrate the UAE's 46th National Day. Check in tomorrow! In the meantime, I leave you with a snippet of the song "Hello Marhaba, Life in the Emirates" incorporated into the musical. Those born prior to 1985 will know that song as it highlights the best things about each Emirate. 💖 . . #mydubai #creativelife #writerslife #dubaiblogger #dubaibloggers #uaebloggers #uaeblogger #abudhabiblogger #abudhabibloggers #artbloggerdubai #creativeentrepreneur #dubaiarts #Dubaiperformance #musical #artdubai #performanceart #performances #mydubailife #dubaitheatre #amazingdubaimusical #dubaiactors #dubaiactor #dubaidancers #pearldiver

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The other song that really made all of us laugh was the song on ‘Oil and Gold.’ Sanjeev Dixie was the writer, director and composer of the oil and gold song. I asked him how he came upon the idea of personifying oil and gold.  He said, “I wanted to bring a sense of chronology to the musical’s script by putting it in tune to the era to reflect it. The oil and gold boom was taking place during the 1960s and 1970s and so dressing up the actors in a jazz, swing and cabaret costumes made sense. From a lyrical standpoint, I felt that personifying oil and gold would allow the actors to bring out the allure and mystique that surrounds these two issues.”

Singing was flawless for most part, though for the song called ‘Marhaba’ where Nasser (played by Ian J. Halstead) teaches expats simple Arabic, it might be worth noting that some of the words in the song do not reflect Emirati Arabic, though it all blended and rhymed so brilliantly. Somehow, I’m sure this can be fixed!

Now, about the character Nasser, played by Ian J. Halstead. He played multiple roles as Nasser, from a young man to a husband, father, businessman, uncle and eventually the head of the household.  I had to ask him what drove his acting to play the different Nasser characters with finesse and authenticity.  Surely, like many of us, he was perhaps born and raised in this country. And as he confirmed on email, that was the case. He said, “As I’m typing out my answer to you, I am actually sitting in a kandoorah. The culture of the land is a part of my deepest self, having been born and raised in Sharjah, though I’d like to think that my performance itself is convincing enough. The reason I was able to flow into Nasser’s character with ease is because of the sense of responsibility to my uncle (Mohammed Abou Shaaban), and of course relationships with members in my household.”


Let the jazz begin!


So, coming back to what I was saying about growing up alongside this country, at the beginning of this blog post. When they sang in the musical that everything is possible in Dubai (and I’d like to add in the UAE), I know they mean it. If my parents didn’t bring us to this country, my siblings and I might have envisioned a different ending. Not only has the country taught me that everything is possible here, but my parents too and as a result, I have been able to grow, learn, get together with other creative entrepreneurs to study new ways of enhancing lives, and not to forget get the chance to enjoy such great musicals in the country that is my home.

Name of the cast (I’m sorry I couldn’t get to interview all of you. You’re all the best!):

Emily Nivia: Genie
Mohammed Abu Sha’aban: Hamad and Hamdan
Joseph Terterian: Abu Nasser
Eesha Verma: Jameela
Ian J. Halstead: Nasser
Jessica Avedikian: Nabeela
Heather Ireland, Louise Shufflebotham and Kimijones Alberto: In multiple supporting roles

Disclaimer: Please note that while I was invited for the red carpet preview of the musical, the opinions stated in this blog post are my very own.