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
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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.”


Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices

Updated 22 May 2024
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Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices

DUBAI: The Arab Cinema Centre (ACC) held a sold-out panel titled “Displacement: Cinematic Perspectives,” at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Plage des Palmes.

The panel discussion — held in collaboration with the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — saw journalist Hadley Gamble engaging in a conversation with UNHCR goodwill ambassador and Australian actress Cate Blanchett, filmmaker Daniela Repas, and photographer Barat Ali Batoor in a session moderated by popular Lebanese host Raya Abirached.

The conversation aimed to shed light on the power of cinema in portraying and addressing the challenges of displacement.

Commenting on the necessity of ensuring refugees are properly represented on screen, Blanchett said: “People who are displaced have a voice, they have a story… Their stories are so incredible and inspiring. I’m always bewildered as to why more films don’t speak directly or obliquely to this,” adding that, “the more we exclude these voices from our narratives, the more we’re othering them.”

The IEFTA also collaborated with the ACC on this year’s edition of the Critics Awards for Arab Films.

Launched in 2017 by the ACC at the Cannes Film Festival, the event provides a platform for a jury of more than 200 international film critics to honor the best of recent Arab cinema across numerous awards categories.


Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards

Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards

DUBAI: The Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency Film AlUla on Wednesday received the Emerging Location Award and Film Commission Award at the Global Production Awards held on the sidelines of the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

The award show recognizes efforts in producing and filming movies and shows. It highlights projects that set high standards in sustainability, diversity and local economic benefits from production activities.

Charlene Deleon-Jones, the executive director of Film AlUla, said in a statement: “Less than five years ago, Film AlUla was established to develop a vibrant film industry, while diversifying the local economy, providing opportunities for local filmmakers and fostering global collaboration.

“Since then, we have been dedicated to building the infrastructure, policies, and teams that will transform the lives of a generation of filmmakers and filmgoers alike,” she added. 

Film AlUla this week hosted a screening of clips from short films by the first four winners of the AlUla Creates Film Programme, which supports Saudi female directors. The winners received mentoring to turn their ideas into festival-ready films.

On May 23, the film “Norah,” shot entirely on location in AlUla with an all-Saudi cast, will become the first Saudi feature to appear as part of the official selection at Cannes in the 77-year history of the festival.


Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   

Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   

DUBAI: Saudi filmmakers Hana Alfasi, Maram Taibah, and sister duo Raneem and Dana Almohandes showcased snippets of their upcoming short films — which are being created as part of the ‘AlUla Creates: Film Program’ platform — to a select audience of industry professionals this week at the Saudi pavilion during the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Alfasi, director of “When the Shelves Hymn,” told Arab News: “It’s a great opportunity to have industry professionals attend a screening of a scene from our new short film.

Raneem and Dana Almohandes. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

“We hope this film will find its way to A-list festivals, gaining the spotlight it deserves through screenings like the one we’re having today,” she added.

Alfasi hopes that the screening will connect her and her team with more professionals as she prepares to direct a feature film, for which she will need additional financial funding and support.

Taibah’s “Malika” is a short fantasy film about a young girl who goes on an adventure to find her dying grandmother’s lost crown, only to discover unexpected parts of herself, the filmmaker said. 

Maram Taiba (L). (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

“I’m very proud of what we made. It was such a delightful process to work with such talented visionaries starting from my producer, cinematographer, and casting director to the postproduction team,” Taibah said.

Taibah believes that Saudi Arabia has many untold stories. 

“Each filmmaker in Saudi is showing one piece of the tapestry and mine shows the magical side of our culture and the treasured relationships we have with our grannies,” she said. “I hope to share the magic of the film and raise anticipation for the completed piece here in Cannes.”

The Almohandes sisters felt “honored” to showcase their movie “Mosquito” to industry experts. 

“Since the beginning of our careers, we always looked forward to showing our films at Cannes and here we are and we’re extremely grateful to the AlUla Creates program for making this happen,” they said. 

The sisters just wrapped up the post-production phase of their animated film, which is about an ambitious mosquito who wants to become the Umm Kulthum of the mosquito world, and she goes on a journey to make her dream come true.

Raneem and Dana have big dreams themselves.

“Our dream is to show our stories and share our voices with international audiences,” they said. 

“It’s just the beginning with this short film and we aim to have the first Saudi musical here at Cannes very soon.” 


Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 

Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 

DUBA: Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turned heads this week at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, wearing a blush ensemble by Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi, founder of Paris-based label Ashi Studio. 

The pink two-piece set from the designer’s 8PM collection featured a strapless corset-style top with simple yet intricate embroidery, and a criss-cross back.

The skirt had a mermaid silhouette with a train that trailed on the red carpet. To complete the ensemble, the set included fluffy, feathered detached sleeves. 

The fashion icon, with her makeup done by Dior Beauty, styled her brunette locks in a short retro bob. She accessorized with Marli jewelry.

Al-Rumaihi attended the premiere of the highly-anticipated movie “The Apprentice,” directed by Ali Abbasi.

As Donald Trump’s hush money trial entered its sixth week in New York, an origin story for the Republican presidential candidate depicted a critical portrayal of the former president in the 1980s.

“The Apprentice” stars Sebastian Stan as Trump. The central relationship of the movie is between Trump and Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), the defense attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s Senate investigations.

Cohn is depicted as a longtime mentor to Trump, coaching him in the ruthlessness of New York City politics and business. Early on, Cohn aided the Trump Organization when it was being sued by the US government for racial discrimination in housing.

According to AP, “The Apprentice” is a potentially explosive big-screen drama in the midst of the US presidential election. The film is for sale in Cannes, so does not yet have a release date.

She donned a long-sleeved dress adorned with white florals. (Getty Images)

Al-Rumaihi was not the only Saudi celebrity in Cannes this week. 

Actress Maria Bahrawi attended The Red Sea International Film Foundation Industry Networking Event which took place on Sunday, at which she donned a long-sleeved dress adorned with white florals, featuring pastel hues of purple, yellow, and orange, elegantly cinched at the waist.

She wore a black jumpsuit with a white cape attached to the sleeve, sourced from Dubai-based Etoile La Boutique. (Getty Images)

She also graced the celebration of “Norah,” a film in which she stars, hosted by Film AlUla during the festival. For the occasion, she opted for a black jumpsuit with a white cape attached to the sleeve, sourced from Dubai-based Etoile La Boutique.


Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza

Updated 21 May 2024
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Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza

DUBAI: Keynote speakers and headliners scheduled to take part in the UK’s annual Great Escape music festival in Brighton refused to appear at this year’s event due to the war in Gaza.  

According to The Guardian, numerous acts withdrew due to a pro-Palestinian boycott targeting the event’s sponsorship by Barclays Bank. Campaigners allege that Barclays has increased its investments in arms companies that trade with Israel.

Bands Boycott Barclays (BBB), the organization spearheading the campaign, asserted that the bank was engaged in “laundering its reputation” through its association with the music festival, a claim that Barclays refutes.

A BBB spokesperson told the BBC that 163 acts, four showcases and two venues had pulled out of the festival.

The Great Escape is an annual music festival held in Brighton, showcasing emerging artists from around the world. It features hundreds of performances across various venues, along with industry panels and networking opportunities.

It is the event that has been key in launching the careers of artists such as Stormzy, AlunaGeorge, Fat White Family and Anna Calvi.