In the heart of Luxor and on the walls of the Karnak Temple, a dramatic story on religion, politics and love is inscribed. Akhenaten was the first documented pharaoh and human to deny all known gods and create a new religion that only glorifies one god, the sun.
Thousands of years later, the story still proves that history does repeat itself in the most ironic ways. Hisham Abdel Khalek, a prominent Egyptian writer, decided to take this story to the new world.
Today Akhenaten is Abdel Khalek’s musical project that is expected to be the very first musical written and created by an Egyptian team to debut on Broadway’s stage.
The project combines several notable names, such as composer Hesham Nazih, choreographer Seat Walker, a few Tony-award winning actors, and young writer Mohamed Metwally.
Metwally has two published books; however, being the songs’ writer makes Akhenaten his first musical trial.
The creative team includes a few more Egyptian figures, such as director Mohsen Gouda, who worked on the promotional videos posted on the musical’s YouTube channel.
After a major online donation campaign, through the well-known website indiegogo.com, the team can finally declare that they are halfway through. Especially after several Saudi and US investors joined the team to help Akhenaten reach its $15m budget and come on stage in 2016.
Presented in the musical, the love story between Akhenaten and his beautiful Queen Nefertiti, the mother-in-law relationship represented in Queen Ti’s drama line, and betrayal from Maya, the great priest of Amon, - meant to be done as a pure entertainment show to present the glory of this era and Pharaonic Egypt.
It is on the production plan after doing the theatre version – to work on turning Akhenaten into a movie. English is the original language of Akhenaten the Musical. Then, later, it is supposed to be translated to other languages.
Hisham Abdel Khalek (the mastermind behind Akhenaten):
I have been thinking about the story of Akhenaten since 2002, when I was the artistic director of the Aida Pyramids, and I always saw it as a rich story that has to be adapted to the theatre, especially as a musical, even though there is the opera of Philip Glass. After the 25 January Revolution, I saw how people get manipulated in the name of religion, not only in Egypt but all over the world, so I saw it as the perfect time to start working on it.
I have been living in Paris for eight years. My aim through my production company there, which I co-founded with my French partner Olivier Delesse, is to take Egyptian art outside the boarders of the Middle East as we, as Arabs, can’t target each other forever.
On the other hand, we don’t have a musical theatre industry in Egypt – maybe Lebanon, but not Egypt.
A good show can live forever, for example “The Phantom of the Opera” is celebrating 26 years on Broadway, and Les Miserable is celebrating its 26th anniversary as well.
I do hope that we can have the art of musicals to flourish and I also dream of having Arabic world-class musicals in Cairo, just like Broadway.
We have a great history in theatre, which I believe we have to revive, but now with regards to musicals. We have great talent on every front, so what we lack is just a big project that is well managed.