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The Middle East is attracting big theatrical shows. Is the market ready?

The world's favorite ogre and the love of his life will be in Dubai. Is the region ready to welcome big shows? Liz Koops, CEO of Broadway Entertainment Group, thinks it is

The Middle East is attracting big theatrical shows. Is the market ready?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Who doesn’t like feeling like the world is capable of bursting into song at any moment? Musicals drawing inspiration from movies are joyous and theatrical, complete with high-energy singalongs. Many have impacted the pop culture world. The proposition is simple: it just brings joy. 

Breathing life, character, and charm into the inanimate, so popular it is that it’s difficult to find someone who has yet to see it in London or New York on tour, or film, or failing that, on DVD. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t experienced the sheer life-affirming joy of Shrek?

Well, if you are, fret not. Shrek the Musical, the 90-minute fun-filled show, is coming to Dubai Opera. 

But what is it that makes the show so appealing? Well, apart from having some of the well-loved characters and memorable tunes – I’m a Believer and Hallelujah, “It truly is a tale for all ages and audiences,” says Liz Koops, CEO of Broadway Entertainment Group (BEG).


In recent years, the response to big musical theater productions in the Middle East has been positive. “The number of theater productions and performances in the region has increased, and there has been a growing interest and appreciation for the arts among audiences. This has been reflected in the emergence of new venues and festivals dedicated to theater,” says Koops.

Additionally, the increasing investment in the arts by governments and private organizations in the region has helped to support and promote events. And for big musical theater productions like Broadway, it’s an opportunity for cultural exchange and audience development.

“The region’s strategic location at the crossroads of different cultures makes it an ideal place for international theater companies and performers to showcase their work and engage,” says Koops.

It’s also an opportunity for production companies to work collaboratively with governments and private organizations to grow and develop the live entertainment distribution network. “In turn, this will result in new theater companies and performers accessing funding and resources to support their work,” she adds.

Additionally, the emergence of new world-class venues for live entertainment in the region helps expand the distribution network. For example, in 2012, when Broadway Entertainment Group opened a head office in Dubai for its first touring production of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, it toured for only six weeks in two markets. 

“A decade later, we have planned up to 20 weeks of touring in five markets,” Koops says.

With an established network of international venues and presenters over the years, BEG has successfully expanded into the emerging markets of the  Middle East.

She says collaborations are vital to the industry’s continuing growth, and corporate sponsorships are essential to the success of production in a market. “These partnerships provide gateway access to wider audiences.”


Having produced shows internationally for over 25 years and toured productions in 40 countries, Koops says it’s a rewarding business. “We produce many different live entertainment and family shows in many countries,” adding that her job offers the opportunity for creativity, working with creative actors, directors, and everything in between.
“It is truly rewarding creating something together.”

Koops insists that the theater has some hidden depths. “It provokes strong emotions in people, which is one of the highlights for me. With Shrek The Musical, for example, it is exciting to see kids, teens, millennials, and parents all laugh and come together to enjoy some light-hearted fun.” 

This is very satisfying, but there must be something – anything – she finds challenging about musical theater production. “First shows into new markets are always a complex but wonderful challenge for all involved,” she says.

It’s something stage productions wrestle with. She says there are always many moving parts that need to be managed, from coordinating people from all over the world and complex freight logistics to understanding and adapting local nuances for the show to be relevant to the audiences. 

“The first tour back in 2012 was logistically very complex. Across the region, we were using air cargo to move 12 containers of sets, costumes, and equipment, and we would close on a Saturday night, load out of the theater, airfreight the cargo to the next destination, ensure no delays in customs or clearances, load into the venue in the next city and open the first show on a Thursday. We had five days turnaround time, and that was complex. But happy to say we didn’t miss an opening, and seeing the audience’s standing ovations at each opening always made it worthwhile for all of us.”

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More