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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s critically acclaimed musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” is now running at The Arena Riyadh until Dec. 5.
Presented by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, in collaboration with Broadway Entertainment Group and by arrangement with the Really Useful Group, the show made its debut on Oct. 14 and will become the longest-running theatrical show to be staged in the Saudi capital.
“The Phantom of the Opera” is based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name. The musical is set in 1830s Paris, follows the Phantom — a musical genius — as he roams the shadows of the Paris Opera House. There, he encounters Christine, an enchanting soprano, drawing her into his world and nurturing her talents. Unbeknownst to Christine, the Phantom has begun to fall in love with her, but she already harbors feelings for the young nobleman Raoul, patron of the opera. What unfolds is a whirlwind of intense emotions that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
The iconic musical has earned more than 70 international theater awards, including seven Tony Awards in New York for its record-breaking Broadway run and four Olivier Awards in London’s West End.
“The Phantom of the Opera” is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicals of all time. The romantic score includes the much-loved songs “Think of Me,” “All I Ask of You,” “The Music of the Night,” and the iconic title song.
Lebanese-British actor Nadim Naaman plays the lead role in the production — the first time an actor of Middle Eastern origin has played the iconic part of the Phantom.
“I’m very happy to be here for the first time. I’ve been traveling around the Middle East my whole life. I’m Lebanese, but raised in London, so I have family in Beirut, in Dubai. I have friends in Doha,” Naaman told Arab News. “I’ve been very fortunate to work in this region for the last five or six years. But Saudi Arabia is the place where it’s happening now, you know? And, watching from London, the development of all the arts, the sport, the tourism, this 2030 Vision that’s happening here is very exciting. And it feels like the right time to bring a show like this here. The people of Riyadh deserve it.”
Naaman has been heavily involved in the production for the past 13 years, portraying the character of Raoul. He believes that the time is finally right for him to take on the role of the Phantom.
“I played the role of Raoul many times, and it has always been my dream to play the Phantom,” he said. “I just had to wait (to get to) the right age and the right point in my career. It’s the biggest privilege, because this is the most iconic role in musical theater for a man. The music is incredible.
“As a Middle Eastern performer, to be doing this for the first time in the Middle East is honestly a dream come true,” he continued. “I could never have imagined this. It’s a very special thing.”
The talented Australian soprano Georgia Wilkinson returns to her role as Christine Daae — one she has played on many occasions, including the show’s tour of Greece.
“I’ve wanted to come to Saudi for so many years and, finally, I get to be here — and for work,” she said. “We’ve been so busy rehearsing that I haven’t gotten to see much of it yet, but once we’re into performances, there’s quite a few places that we want to go, like the Edge of the World, Diriyah, Kingdom Tower … we’ve got a whole list that we’re going to work our way through.”
During her time at Melbourne University, Wilkinson’s exceptional abilities earned her the distinction of becoming the youngest-ever Opera Scholar of the Year and a recipient of the Robert Salzer Voice Award.
Her favorite song from the show, she told Arab News, is the title track. “I think it’s the first part of the soundtrack that I heard when I was a child and I just grasped onto it. It was like an earworm; it was constantly in my head, and I would sing along. It’s so emotive, and the vocal range is amazing. I could sing it 10 times a night. I just love it,” she explained.
The show’s Riyadh run is part of the RCRC’s efforts to offer a wide range of entertainment choices, aligning with the goals of Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Program.
Jasper Hope, an adviser to the Riyadh commission, said that arranging the performances in Riyadh took more than two years.
“That’s because this is the world’s most popular musical,” he explained. “Everybody in the world wants to see a production of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in their city. (So) it’s taken us a little while. We had to get a venue that was suitable, we had to get a production and a company, we had to make the arrangements. These things can take time.
“This isn’t the first show that we’ve done here in Riyadh. We’ve been working for the last four or five months to bring shows pretty much every month, and we hope to continue that in the years to come,” he added.
There will be a total of 59 performances of the show in Riyadh, featuring a cast and crew numbering over 100, and more than 230 intricately designed costumes.
Andrew Riley, the set and costume designer, told Arab News: “I think designing a show anywhere has its challenges, to be honest, no matter where you are. It’s such a technically complicated and complex show. There’s a lot of moving scenery, automation, flying, and costume changes. There are over 150 costumes in the show, and there are a lot of quick changes, so it’s very technical,” he said.
While paying homage to the timeless legacy of “The Phantom of the Opera,” the Riyadh performance promises to deliver a “fresh and mesmerizing experience that will captivate both devoted fans and newcomers to the story.”
Tickets are available at phantom.platinumlist.net and ticketingboxoffice.com.
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