Interaction in most UAE cinemas more often than not involves animated popcorn consumption or poorly-timed texting. But for two nights next week, a Dubai singer will get up and "disrupt" his own romantic movie.
Belgian-born crooner Wim Hoste is one of two stars in innovative cinema-meets-concert production Don't You Forget About Me. He and writer Alex Broun, a former cast member of Australian TV drama, Neighbours, who lives in Dubai, describe it as an interactive "live cinema" experience. Put simply, the hour-long love story blends on-screen action and onstage singing and acting; the latter delivered in person by Hoste.
The show, named after and featuring the Simple Minds song of the same name, will be on for two nights this week. The singer says the idea was "to create a unique concept that brings theatre, cabaret and the musical close to audiences by performing it in cinemas at a very reasonable price".
It also gives Hoste, whose career has included logistics management and trade consulting, an opportunity to perform some of his favourite songs, which drive the film's plot and primary theme. "The story is about cruise ship singer Oliver (Hoste), who falls in love with Chloe (Suzie Demetri Robertson), a billboard and magazine cover woman," says Hoste.
It goes on to examine the "separation between the real world and the paper world" through a blend of film and a classic / modern pop and jazz songbook that includes Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, She by Charles Aznavour, U2's With or Without You, Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, as well as crooner classics Strangers in the Night and That's Life.
Actress and model Robertson, previously featured in the UAE indie movie Louder, while writer Broun introduced the Short + Sweet mini-plays concept to the UAE. He previously worked with Hoste on his 2018 Best Of Broadway show in Dubai's Madinat Theatre.
"We wanted to develop that creative relationship and try something new," explains Broun. "This project combines many of my loves – directing for stage and film, writing for theatre and film and my background as an actor – it was a chance to combine many of those skills to come up with something exciting and different.
"I was inspired in part by Wim's life. He's a very interesting man – he has travelled extensively and been successful – in business, but also as an entertainer.
"The life of a travelling entertainer can also be lonely, so I wanted to focus on that aspect as well … Oliver is at a point in his life when he is a little lost and alone. That's important for the starting point of the story."
Working with a small budget, one huge challenge was location – taking the film element to a Paris jazz bar, an ocean-going luxury liner, Times Square in New York – all the while staying within an Al Quoz studio. "Many of the challenges were technical at the start – eyelines, backgrounds, matching the sound with the images," explains Broun, who praises the work of UAE production company Blah Studio.
“Suzie did an amazing job lip-syncing the dialogue and songs, really hard as she was literally in front of a green screen reacting to imaginary events and incidents outside the frame, but the passion and level of emotional commitment she brought to the scenes and songs was incredible.” Hoste and Broun say the show works best when the characters duet or dance together, “but one is on the screen and one is live in front of us”.
So, was there not a danger the show could become a glorified music video – or video karaoke? Broun sees it as a cross between the Tom Hanks film Splash and Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful, and doesn't believe there was ever a chance of that.
“The focus was always on the character and the story. The songs and the film always had to serve the story and the characters – if not, it had no place in the show. We were really tough on that,” he says.
"There was a standing ovation at the premiere [on January 22] and it was these moments of live action and screen working together in perfect harmony that really captured people's imagination. People loved the characters, the songs and the stunning images," he says. "It's certainly something that can be explored more in the future … the possibilities are endless." Hoste, meanwhile, describes Don't You Forget About Me as a show for those who remember what it was like to fall in love, set aboard "one of the most romantic places on earth".
“This is a new entertainment concept in the GCC and Dubai,” he enthuses, “the first place to experience this unique interaction between live performance and cinema projection.”
Don't You Forget About Me will be on Thursday and Friday at Vox Cinemas Mall of the Emirates