Egyptian 'Les Miserables' brings joy to Cairo!

Published April 24th, 2016 - 08:26 GMT
Nesma Mahgoub and Mostafa ‘Safy’ Rashad in ‘Leila Kebira,’ Feb. 2016. (Scoop Empire)
Nesma Mahgoub and Mostafa ‘Safy’ Rashad in ‘Leila Kebira,’ Feb. 2016. (Scoop Empire)

We’re willing to bet fans of Les Miserables, one of the world’s best-loved musicals, never expected to enjoy it in Egyptian 3ameyya – but when it premiered three years ago, Cairo loved it. So did we. What started as Nesma Mahgoub’s graduation project at AUC quickly grew into part of something much bigger: Fabrica.


Nadine El Seragy as Fantine  in ‘Les Miserables,’ Feb. 2014.

Since its launch in 2013, Fabrica has toured the U.S., added four new productions to its repertoire, and greatly expanded its music education programs. It aims to “give a chance to the many talents in Egypt,” founder Neveen Allouba told Scoop Empire, and to be “a podium [for singers] to express themselves and grow and learn.”


Fabrica founder Neveen Allouba, center, acts as the narrator/Fairy Godmother during ‘Disney Mania,’ April 2016.

So far, Fabrica seems to be making that happen: they have roughly 70 students in their academy and insist that “the younger people actually stand on stage and join the recitals and sing,” according to Mahgoub. And so, Fabrica’s premiere of Disney Mania at Sakia last weekend saw a number of new singers on stage alongside Mahgoub and other Fabrica company members.

Among them was 11-year-old Salma. Salma auditioned for Fabrica last year and was surprised to be accepted. She now studies voice with Nathalie Alain, one of Fabrica’s younger teachers and a protégé of Neveen Allouba. 


Salma sings ‘Little April Showers’ from Bambi during ‘Disney Mania,’ April 2016. She told Scoop it was her favorite of all the songs she sang in the performance, and she hopes one day to sing something from Annie.

We caught up with Salma after a hip-hop class earlier this week. Salma said she likes studying with Nathalie, and that the best part of Fabrica is seeing “different people… with different talents in music,” such as piano or guitar.

Taymour, 15, was also on stage that night, but Taymour is no newbie. Since 2014, he has been in three Fabrica productions: a musical revue, Leila Kebira and now Disney Mania. Of all of them, he enjoyed performing in Leila Kebira most, he said, because it “felt most comfortable.” 


15-year-old Taymour as Baloo singing ‘The Bare Necessities’ during ‘Disney Mania.’

Taymour has been studying with Neveen under Fabrica’s umbrella for nearly two years. “It’s been really nice,” he told us of working with Fabrica. “You get to try new things and meet new people, and I’m really enjoying it so far.”

But before Disney Mania and even before Leila Kebira, it was Fabrica’s Egyptian Arabic translation of Les Miserables that drew attention to the company. The production was so popular the group was invited to perform on Bassem Youssef’s Al Bernamag, and then took the show on a two-week tour in the U.S.


Hany Mustafa as Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miserables,’ Feb. 2014. 

What set Fabrica apart with Les Mis and continues to distinguish it from other companies is its use of Egyptian Arabic. Translating classic opera and musical theater productions into Egyptian Arabic is “one of our main goals,” Allouba told us. “It comes closer to the people when you speak their language.”

Fabrica is currently working on a colloquial Egyptian translation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. “There are things that have been translated into classical Arabic,” said Neveen, speaking about the opera, “but we believe this is not what Mozart meant it to be, to be a snobbish version.” Instead, Fabrica wants to create productions that can bring the world of musical theater to anyone in Egypt – not just those who understand formal Arabic. 


Mohammed Aboul Kheir directs ‘Qadet Sultana,’ another Fabrica production, at Sakia, March 2016. 

“Our audience are not just people who can sing or act or always understand English,” Mahgoub said, explaining why their choice of language is so important. Using Egyptian Arabic “makes it closer to their hearts, closer to their minds, and makes them learn the words and sing it with us,” she added.

Allouba told us the production of The Magic Flute will be aimed mostly at introducing children to opera.

Beyond that, there are big plans in the works for Fabrica. Mahgoub, Fabrica’s executive advisor and manager of the artistic department, says the plan is for Fabrica to have three main departments: musical theater, oriental, and classical. It would be “seriously academic,” she said, with prospective students applying to their department of choice and each department having its own teachers and productions. 


Nesma Mahgoub and Mostafa ‘Safy’ Rashad in ‘Leila Kebira,’ Feb. 2016.

But for Mahgoub, Fabrica is more than just a performance company. “I feel like I started this with Dr. Neveen, so I feel responsible for Fabrica,” she said. “I love musical theater a lot, and I appreciate that there are people like Neveen and (Mohammed) Aboul Kheir working hard and giving their time and even their money and trying to make Egypt better in the music industry, and opening doors for new talents to show what they have to the people, and the audiences appreciate that a lot.

“They’re seeing that younger generations can do this.”

By Sallie Pisch


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