Nadim Naaman takes the stage as first Arab lead star in ‘The Phantom of The Opera’ at Dubai Opera

The play, which centers on the theme of unrequited love, was written by the famed English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and made its debut in London in 1986. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2024

Nadim Naaman takes the stage as first Arab lead star in ‘The Phantom of The Opera’ at Dubai Opera

  • Lebanese-British theater performer realizes lifelong ambition after growing up with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical

DUBAI: The moment has finally come for Lebanese-British theater actor Nadim Naaman. For over a decade, he has been associated with the popular musical “The Phantom of The Opera,” initially joining as an ensemble member.

The play, which centers on the theme of unrequited love, was written by the famed English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and made its debut in London in 1986. 

Growing up in the British capital, Naaman had seen the play’s posters on buses and taxis. It was a big deal in the world of theater.

Naaman worked his way up and recently landed the lead role of Phantom, making him the first actor of Arab origin to play the coveted male character on stage. (Supplied)

“I think I was probably 15 or 16 and my parents took my brother, sister and I to see it, like a family outing, and I remember thinking, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever seen,’” Naaman told Arab News. 

Naaman worked his way up and recently landed the lead role of Phantom, making him the first actor of Arab origin to play the coveted male character on stage.

Until March 10, “The Phantom of The Opera” will be playing at the UAE’s Dubai Opera, with a production team of over 100 cast and crew members from around the world. 

For the actor, who has visited Dubai for three decades for family reasons, performing in the UAE feels like a full-circle moment. Last year, he also played the Phantom during the show’s run in Riyadh.

“I always knew that this was my dream role, and I just have to be patient and, hopefully, one day the opportunity would come,” he said ahead of the show’s opening night in Dubai.

For the actor, who has visited Dubai for three decades for family reasons, performing in the UAE feels like a full-circle moment. (Supplied)

“To be the first Arab to do so in this region, in Saudi and Dubai, is the perfect combination of circumstances ... I couldn’t have dreamt that would happen.”   

The award-winning musical is based on the early 20th-century novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera” by the French author Gaston Leroux. Set at the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, the venue is haunted by the hidden Phantom, a disfigured and passionate outcast, who falls for his protege, the young Swedish soprano Christine Daee. Things become intense when Christine’s lover, Raoul (played by Dougie Carter in the Dubai play), enters the picture. 

“It’s such a strong story. It’s a love triangle, which is always a winner. There is an element of recluse — someone who doesn’t fit in society and, of course, everyone at some point in their life can relate to that,” the English actress Harriet Jones, who plays Christine, told Arab News.

“The story of Christine is really a coming-of-age story, which suits my journey with the show because I first played her 10 years ago. Nadim and I have known each other for 10 years now. We’ve kind of grown up together on this show.”

Naaman, who formerly played Raoul, says that the Phantom is unlike any other character he has taken on.

Naaman says that the Phantom is unlike any other character he has taken on. (Supplied)

“With Raoul, it did always feel quite close to me. The Phantom is the complete opposite. To get ready to play a character and to look in the mirror and see somebody who is nothing like you, who behaves in a way that is nothing like you, is a really exciting and quite liberating experience because every single move you make or word that comes out of your mouth has a motivation that you have to really discover. It’s not easy, it’s hard work, but that’s what makes it rewarding.”

The other bit of hard work has also been wearing a face prosthetic (of a burn scar) covered with the mask, along with a wig, for every performance. The fitting takes more than an hour but helps Naaman get into character.

Around 20 shows have been scheduled at Dubai Opera, and for Naaman and Jones, it is still a thrill singing in front of an audience every night.

“Standing backstage and listening to the overture, which is so loud and big and it goes through your chest, that is almost when it starts for me. It’s an incredible feeling,” said Jones.  

Why has the musical been a hit with millions? Naaman believes it is the universality of its story that has made it popular until today, finding its way to new audiences in the Middle East.

“The show has been around for 40 years, but there is a new generation of audiences getting to experience it for the first time,” he said.

“Those key themes of love, unrequited love, and wanting to fit in and be accepted are relatable to all cultures, all ages, backgrounds. The key ingredients just keep people engaged the whole way through.”

Romanian Jordanian designer Amina Muaddi teases new collection

Updated 23 April 2024

Romanian Jordanian designer Amina Muaddi teases new collection

DUBAI: Romanian Jordanian designer Amina Muaddi teased her new collection, titled “High Summer,” on social media this week.

The celebrity-loved designer will release her new drop worldwide at 3 p.m. Central European Time on Tuesday.

Muaddi shared a teaser with her 1.3 million followers featuring a model opening a cream-colored clutch, revealing a mirror on the inside of the bag.

In addition to her collection of shoes, Muaddi’s jewelry and bag lines are also gaining acclaim among her celebrity clientele. The shoemaker’s label has garnered a loyal list of famous fans, including Dua Lipa, Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber Baldwin. 

Muaddi launched her eponymous footwear line in August 2018, about one year after departing from her role as co-founder and creative director of luxury footwear label Oscar Tiye.

The creator also helped design the shoes for Rihanna’s Fenty collection. The collaboration received the Collaborator of the Year award at the 34th edition of the FN Achievement Awards in 2020.

A year later, she landed a spot on Women’s Wear Daily and Footwear News’ 50 Most Powerful Women list.

Her jewelry collection encompasses rings, earrings and bangles.

The rings boast spiral-shaped designs, bombe rings with a crystal centrepieces available in both silver and gold, and a silver band adorned with crystals.

In the earring selection, versatility reigns supreme. Alongside simple rectangle and circular hoops embellished with crystals, she offers intricate multi-ring hoop designs.

The designer’s handbag range includes a variety of styles, from sleek clutches with striking embellishments to bold totes and crossbody bags.

Some of the bags are embellished with sparkling crystals or intricate sequins, while others are made from satin or leather and feature metallic finishes. The color palette includes classic cream, brown, black, red and silver.

Muaddi previously spoke to Footwear News about her rise of one of the most in-demand footwear designers in the industry.

“I was so passionate, so I was willing to go through any hardship,” she told the publication. “There’s a reason why only so many people get to this point, because you get tested a lot.

“Many times, I was close to giving up. I had to part ways with my partner, with producers; I’ve had (orders) cancelled. It’s not about what you go through, it’s how you survive the situation and how you thrive after it. It’s a never-ending lesson,” she added.

REVIEW: ‘Returnal’ — a thoughtful and challenging sci-fi adventure

Updated 23 April 2024

REVIEW: ‘Returnal’ — a thoughtful and challenging sci-fi adventure

LONDON: Right from the start, before you even take control of Selene Vassos, a reconnaissance scout who has crash landed on a prohibited and mysterious planet, you are warned that “Returnal” (available originally for PS5 but now PC too) is “intended to be a challenging experience.” Such difficulty may deter the casual gamer used to a steady progression of character and exploration through a games environment. However, “Returnal” is a thoughtful and rewarding adventure that lays claim to much originality of thought in its set up. The key theme is that when you die, you return! But not to the same environment that you were in before. Instead, each new cycle postures new challenges and progress can only be made by unlocking upgrades that allow you to make more meta progress in Selene’s journey.

Selene herself is a super professional, unfazed character who doesn’t appear too bothered when she comes across a body of her former self that died in this strange world where the laws of physics and time appear not to apply. Staying alive is obviously crucial, particularly as it allows her to retain better weapons for longer. In addition, avoiding damage allows for boosts of agility, vision and more, making for a more lethal Selene. The environment is varied and surprising with each incarnation and the weapons on offer come complete with a range of exciting alternative fire mechanisms such as homing missiles or laser-like items. A hostile environment where even plants are a threat to life is mitigated by your technology, the core of which you can improve despite the reset of deaths, through fancy smart “xeno-tech” that becomes integrated with alien kit left around.

There is a paradox in “Returnal” described by Selene herself that she is trapped in an environment that is “always the same, always changing,” which literally makes no sense. Players have to be patient in the early chapters getting used to the sapping dynamic of death and return. Once that makes more sense, the loneliness of both her alien environment and the impossibility of even dying to escape it make for a pretty special atmosphere that a smart shooting engine then complements.

Simi, Haze Khadra share entrepreneurial insights at Harvard

Updated 22 April 2024

Simi, Haze Khadra share entrepreneurial insights at Harvard

DUBAI: US Palestinian beauty moguls Simi and Haze Khadra took to the stage at the Arab Conference at Harvard in the US to share insights into their business, SimiHaze Beauty.

The twins — who are often spotted alongside the likes of Kylie and Kendall Jenner as well as Canadian musician The Weeknd — spoke at the conference that ran from April 19-21.

“Thank you for having us as speakers at Harvard’s ACH24, discussing our unwavering values in our lives and business which has not only brought us more purpose, but also more success. We also discuss the next frontier of the beauty business as founders (of) @simihazebeauty,” the pair shared on Instagram.


A post shared by Simi & Haze (@simihaze)

The brand is set to be available in the GCC via French multinational retailer Sephora starting from May 2024, with the sisters scheduled to jet to Dubai for a launch event on May 2.

The twins launched their US-born cosmetics brand in 2021 with a range of stick-on makeup designs that can be placed on the face for a bold beauty look achievable within seconds. The sticker book features an array of edgy designs inspired by their favorite DJ looks from the past, such as chrome wings, neon negative space eyeliner and holographic cat-eyes.

SimiHaze Beauty has expanded to include a range of products, including lipsticks, bronzing powders, a lifting mascara and more.

The beauty entrepreneurs and DJs, who grew up between Riyadh, Dubai and London, are known for their contemporary beauty looks and are often spotted in public with futuristic makeup, something they have managed to encapsulate in their brand.


A post shared by Simi & Haze (@simihaze)

Earlier this month, the sisters celebrated their birthday with a call for donations to Gaza.

“Thank you for all the sweet birthday messages. Feeling all the love and radiating it all back to you. All we want for our (birthday) is for you to help us build a NICU for the babies in Rafah,” the sisters posted.


A post shared by Simi & Haze (@simihaze)

“Many premature babies in Gaza are in dire need of help as a result of the ongoing blockade by Israel. Newborns share incubators as supplies run low at the few swamped remaining hospitals that have not been attacked. @heal.palestine is actively working on building a new NICU in Rafah while supporting the only other existing NICU at the Emirati Hospital by providing medication and all the other supplies to help give premature babies the care they need,” the sisters posted on Instagram earlier this week, referring to US-based nonprofit organization Heal Palestine.

The pair have been vocal about the conflict in Gaza, posting frequently on their social media platforms as well as hosting video discussions on YouTube on various aspects of Israeli-Palestinian politics.

Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale

Updated 22 April 2024

Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale

VENICE: Emirati conceptual artist Abdullah Al-Saadi is representing the UAE at the 60th Venice Biennale, curated this year by Adriano Pedrosa under the theme of “Foreigners Everywhere. Stranieri Ovunque.” The pavilion’s exhibition, which opened on April 20 and runs until Nov. 24, was curated by Tarek Abou El-Fetouh.

Al-Saadi has played a pivotal role in the development of the UAE’s evolving art scene — his multidisciplinary practice includes the mediums of painting, drawing, sculpture, performance and photography, as well as collecting and cataloguing found objects and the creation of new alphabets.

“Since I was a student, four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life,” Al-Saadi said in a statement. “My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas, and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys. I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”

“I am representing myself in Venice as an artist foremost and then as a local Emirati artist,” Al-Saadi told Arab News. “This pavilion will showcase my artistic journey over a long period of time since after university through eight works, two of which are new commissions,” he said of the ongoing show titled “Abdullah Al-Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia.”

One of the artistic journeys he made that will serve as a new artwork took place amid the Arabian landscape.

“I spent seven days in the valley studying the tea, the coffee, and bread,” Al-Saadi explained to Arab News. “Then after one week I rode my bicycle, and I went to the mountains. During that time, I was reading a book on the Silk Road and trying to imagine how it was to travel on the Silk Road and I compared my way of traveling with how it was to travel on the Silk Road long ago.”

“Abdullah’s work is comprised of multiple aspects, from his diaries to sketches, to landscapes, scrolls and other objects that he creates,” Laila Binbrek, Director of the National Pavillion UAE, explained to Arab News. “They all stem from his diary — a diary he has been keeping for the last 40 years. Every day he writes in his diary.” 

Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London

Updated 22 April 2024

Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London

LONDON: Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds spring sale will see 261 lots —including paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, textiles, rugs and carpets — go under the hammer at a live auction at their London headquarters on April 25.

Arab News was given an exclusive viewing of some of the works prior to their public pre-sale showing from April 21-24.

Sara Plumbly, Christie’s Head of Department for Islamic and Indian Art, gave her expert insights into some selected pieces.

These included lot 45, an exquisite miniature octagonal Qur’an, dated AH 985/1577-8 AD, which was made in Madinah, the Qur’an has an estimate of $13,000-19,000.

“We very rarely see manuscripts that were copied in the holy cities. So this being copied in Madinah makes it very rare,” she explained.

“It has a Naskh script. This a very steady, cursive script which is relatively easy to read — unlike some of the others. For example, Nastaliq script, which is copied on the diagonal, is much trickier to read. For Qur’ans you would almost always see a Naskh script for ease of reading. Nastaliq is usually reserved for poetic manuscripts,” she said.

This miniature Qur’an would be small enough to carry with the owner on a daily basis, usually around the neck. Alternatively, they would be hung in their silver boxes on an ‘alam (standard or flag) and carried into battle.

Plumbly, who completed her master’s degree in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, has lived and travelled extensively across the Middle East and North Africa, including extended periods in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Another stunning item in the sale is a Watercolor Album depicting a selection of known prestigious and rare Iznik ceramics from the Louis Huth collection. It comprises 44 single and double-page watercolor paintings of Iznik bowls, flasks, ewers and dishes.

Watercolor paintings of Iznik bowls, flasks, ewers and dishes will go under the hammer. (Supplied)

It was also fascinating to see a rare and complete illustrated manuscript copy of the Khamsa of Nizami by 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, together with the Khamsa of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi, a 13th century Persian Sufi singer, musician, poet and scholar. The colors in the illuminations leap off the pages as though created yesterday.

Plumbly also pointed out the exceptional workmanship of an early 13th century Kashan pottery bowl, excavated in Iran’s Kashan in 1934.

A Khashan pottery bowl inscribed with three Persian quatrains, or poetic verses. (Supplied)

“This type of Kashan ceramics have a wonderful luster. It’s a very difficult technique to perfect. This bowl has a really beautiful dark gold color which is very well controlled. The condition is remarkable. It’s one of those ‘best of type’ objects,” Plumbly observed.