Guy Manoukian’s latest venture is a showstopper.
Launched last week, The Theatre is a glitzy dinner and cabaret concept and features musical and dance routines curated by the acclaimed Lebanese-Armenian composer.
Running weekly from Wednesday to Saturday at Fairmont Dubai, each of the two nightly shows boast slick choreography, acrobatics and eclectic band performances of Levant folk classics, such as Ya Rayes by the late Lebanese singer Wadih El Safi, and global hits such as the epic ballad Faithfully by 1980s rockers Journey.
For the latter, Manoukian will slip away from the technical booth to make an appearance on stage behind the piano.
“I can’t resist,” he tells The National.
“A lot of my hardcore fans are used to seeing me play a certain cross of oriental music, which I love. But I am also a fan of so many other kinds of music and Journey are one of my favourite groups.
“With this show, it gives me a rare chance to create a programme based on the music that shaped my life.”
Dinner and a show
The dream gig was proposed to Manoukian last year, when he partnered up with UAE food and drinks companies Bulldozer Group (behind restaurants Scalini and Gaia) and 7 Management (behind lounge bar Seven Sisters) to launch The Theatre.
“Right now I am working on a performance with songs by Boyz II Men as well as the Gipsy Kings. We also had these amazing dancers working on routines based on films I love and grew up with, such as 9 ½ Weeks,“ he says.
“Basically, what you are seeing on stage is an extension of myself.”
What stops The Theatre from veering into sheer self-indulgence, however, is the efficiency of all involved.
The venue is equal part elegance and kitsch.
Well-dressed clientele sit on dimly lit tables, under regal chandeliers, surrounding a T-shaped stage covered by red velvet curtains.
With an international music career spanning three decades, Manoukian knows what he is looking for on stage.
Each two-hour show is full of fast-moving performances, evoking certain eras of pop culture: there is a Las Vegas-style crooner doing a smooth take on Can't Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Valli, a troupe of dancers doing a swinging take on Joe Cocker’s You Can Leave Your Hat On and an Arabic wedding band belting out dabke-ready anthems.
That fun and refined approach is also reflected in the international menu on offer. From hearty lamb chops and zesty black cod to shared platters of sushi, sashimi and maki rolls, in addition to a decadent truffle pizza, the offerings are generous and often delivered within 15 minutes.
Hiring the best
That seamless interplay between service and performance is crucial, Manoukian says, to ensuring each of the two shows run on time.
The 8pm seating The National attended on Saturday wrapped up 10 minutes before doors opened for the 10pm performance.
More than the opportunity to cater to a bigger crowd amid social-distancing restrictions, having two shows a night also allows The Theatre to appeal to a diverse audience.
While both sets deliver the glitz and glam, Manoukian says the 8pm session caters to a slightly more conservative audience, with the follow-up being more party-driven.
With no two nightly shows the same, up to 40 separate performances have been devised, with many set to debut in the coming weeks.
“A lot of that is down to the quality of talent we have,” Manoukian says.
"The irony of the whole pandemic is that it made a lot of world-class creatives available, which is so rare.
“So we managed to get dancers and people from shows like Cirque du Soleil, for example."
Taking the show on the road
What has also convinced them to sign up is The Theatre’s global ambitions.
Manoukian confirms negotiations are already under way with international investors, some of whom flew in to attend the opening night last week.
There is a catch, however.
"The Theatre is not just a brand you can just franchise,” he says. “If we are not behind it, from the performance and the hospitality to the management, then we won’t accept it.
“If that is the case, we would rather expand ourselves once we have built a solid base in Dubai.”
“What we are creating is a home-grown brand directly from the UAE. Our expansion plans are ambitious and this is something to be proud of,” he says.
"It is also what I want to do. I want to give more time to the UAE and Dubai for showing me love and respect for the past 20 years. While I am proud to receive the golden visa it doesn't stop there ... When you show appreciation to people because of their talent, then they have to give back with their talents unconditionally.”
The Theatre runs from Wednesday to Saturday, with shows at 8pm and 10pm; doors open from 7.30pm to 2am; reservations can be made on 04 222 2268