Performing in Saudi Arabia ‘a dream come true,’ says ‘Wizard of Oz’ star

The show — a celebration of the classic 1939 movie — is being performed for the first time in the Kingdom in the Red Hall at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University until Oct. 26. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2019

Performing in Saudi Arabia ‘a dream come true,’ says ‘Wizard of Oz’ star

  • Arab News speaks to lead actress, production manager of the musical, now being staged in Riyadh
  • The show has already toured twice in the US, then for 13 weeks in China. The regional tour began two weeks ago in Bahrain, before arriving in Dhahran and Riyadh. Its next stop is Jeddah

RIYADH: People in Riyadh have been enjoying a lavish new rendition of the beloved musical “The Wizard of Oz” for the last week. 

The show — a celebration of the classic 1939 movie starring Judy Garland as the young heroine Dorothy Gale — is being performed for the first time in the Kingdom in the Red Hall at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University until Oct. 26. The stunning visual effects employed by the touring production — and, of course, the timeless, classic songs — have left audiences spellbound.

Marc Ciemiewicz, company manager at production company APEX Touring, expressed how important performing in Saudi Arabia is for the cast and crew.

“To be in a country that has never had an American musical theater performance is history-making, and that is what I think is the biggest honor for us,” he told Arab News. “We are part of history. It is something that we can tell our grandchildren: ‘You know what? I was (part of) one of the first shows that ever went to Saudi Arabia.’ That is very exciting.” 

Ciemiewicz admitted that no one involved in the show was sure what to expect from a Saudi audience. “It’s a first-of-its-kind experience and we have met with incredible audiences who have absolutely loved the show. It has been such a wonderful thing to be able to bring such a show to a country that has never had that experience.”

The show has already toured twice in the US, then for 13 weeks in China. The regional tour began two weeks ago in Bahrain, before arriving in Dhahran and Riyadh. Its next stop is Jeddah.

To be in a country that has never had an American musical theater performance is history-making, and that is what I think is the biggest honor for us.

Marc Ciemiewicz, company manager, APEX Touring

Such a heavy schedule can take its toll on everyone involved. Ciemiewicz’s solution? “Rest, rest and more rest.” But he also stressed that it is important to the team to be able to explore the countries they visit, and that they were all keen to embrace the Kingdom’s culture while they are here.

“It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be here,” Megan Urz, who plays Dorothy in the show, told Arab News — adding that she has always been “fascinated” by the Middle East. “I have always wanted to come here. It’s blowing me away,” she said.

Performing in the Kingdom has been “beyond what we were expecting,” Urz said, adding that her favorite part of the job is the audiences’ reaction to her performance, and those of her fellow cast members.

“I think about it every night,” she said. “All the many new faces who get to experience this show with all of us for the first time.”

“As an actor, you have to learn how to play with the audience as much as you are playing with the actors on the stage,” Ciemiewicz said. “Sometimes you will find an audience that is more reserved and they’re very quiet through the show, and then at the end they go totally crazy.”

For Urz and the rest of the cast, each performance they give on tour is special and unique, and the experience is just as enjoyable for them as for the audience.

“I still have to remind myself that I am actually here in Saudi Arabia performing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to these beautiful people. It’s a dream come true,” said Urz. “It is so heartwarming for all of us to be able to spread and experience (this) joy with them.”


Dr. Lilak Al-Safadi, president of the Saudi Electronic University

Updated 05 July 2020

Dr. Lilak Al-Safadi, president of the Saudi Electronic University

Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh recently announced the appointment of Dr. Lilak Al-Safadi as president of the Saudi Electronic University. She becomes the first woman to chair a Saudi university that includes both male and female students.

She has worked as executive director for more than 20 years in business development, business consulting and strategic leadership, and accumulated experience in project management.

She has also published more than 50 research papers and articles on research topics such as e-commerce and artificial and commercial intelligence.

Al-Safadi was the vice president and national technology officer at Microsoft and is a faculty member at the King Saud University, Riyadh.

She also worked as a consultant to the governor of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monshaat), and a consultant to the vice presidency for planning, quality and development at the Saudi Electronic University. 

Al-Safadi is a graduate from the University of Wollongong, Australia with a Ph.D. in computer science which she completed in 2002; she majored in software engineering and completed her master’s in computer science in 1995. 

In a telephone interview with Al-Ekhbariya channel, Al-Safadi said that her appointment had many implications not only for empowering women and enhancing their role, but also as an indication of the Kingdom’s commitment to women’s equity at all levels, including equal opportunities in leadership and competition.