Hot seat: Lucy Blakeman

As High School Musical slam dunks its way back into town, <em>Mark Smith</em> gets the gossip from the Dubai stage spectacular’s producer.

Hot seat, The Knowledge

Dubai theatre productions usually have a limited run. How does it feel to be bringing a show back?
When something you have produced sells out and you receive requests for it to come back you know that all your hard work has paid off. People thought we were mad to produce High School Musical in the UAE in July – but I’m so glad we trusted our instincts.

Was it love at first sight when you first encountered High School Musical?
It arrived without much fanfare and before anyone knew it had turned into a monster hit. As soon as we saw the movie and learned of a stage version being adapted by Disney we knew it would be a perfect theatrical production for us to do here in Dubai.

Why do you think the ‘brand’ is so successful?
In the same way the older generation look to Grease with such affection, I think High School Musical is an excellent representation of modern day teenage life. It’s been criticised by some for its squeaky clean image, but we think a story about kids wanting to do something with their lives and the friendships they build together should be celebrated. Most of all, it’s just great fun!

What do you think is the message of High School Musical?
You can achieve anything you wish as long as you have your friends around you – that’s the message of one of the hit songs ‘We’re All In This Together’. It deals with positivity and determination and suggests you should treat others the way you wish to be treated.

How did you come to be bringing productions to Dubai?
Popular Productions’ first show produced in Dubai was a musical comedy revue called I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. It had already had a popular run in London, where it was seen by Jayne Austin Price of the Madinat Theatre, who booked us instantly. Things just grew from there, with a selection of productions including The Complete Works Of Shakespeare (Abridged), Willy Russell’s Educating Rita and a great production of the Olivier Award-winning Stones In His Pockets.

Is there any show you wouldn’t bring to the UAE?
Obviously, we are respectful of the UAE’s religious sensibilities, so there are certain shows that we couldn’t bring due to subject matter. But it seems the UAE audiences have varied tastes so there’s plenty to explore in the future.

Tell us about the casting process for High School Musical.
It drew more than 600 auditionees in May of this year. Our West End creative team flew over and put everyone through their paces over an exhausting weekend. We feel very proud in particular to have discovered some of our leads in this show, who are now themselves planning to live their dreams and go to London.

Were there stage moms and diva strops?
Apart from the director’s occasional tantrums [laughs] there wasn’t really time for strops!

Were you surprised by the level of talent lurking in Dubai?
Lurking? It jumped up and screamed ‘I’m here!’ Yes… the talent needs to be given a professional platform on which to perform. America has Broadway, London has the West End – there is no reason at all that Dubai shouldn’t have its own theatreland.

Disney’s ‘High School Musical’, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, November 12-15. See for details

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