A Large and Eclectic Musical Bursts onto the Theater Scene

Casino el-Ons brings charm and diversity to LAU’s major spring production.

A scene from the satirical play: a poker table, a band and a rapper.
The cast was encouraged to act over the top and “go crazy,” reflecting the atmosphere of a cabaret.
Members of the cast pictured with directors Amr Selim and Awad Awad.

New Cairo. El-Haram Street. A bar. A poker table. A band. A belly dancer. And two news anchors. Welcome to Casino el-Ons, LAU’s major spring music-theater production, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Amr Selim and LAU alumnus Awad Awad.

The satirical play – which employs 39 cast members, including musicians, actors, singers and dancers – is a collaborative work tackling a number of themes relevant to today’s times, such as corruption, the dissemination of information and the influence of social media.

“If I were to summarize the whole story, it is about the information itself,” Selim said. “It is about how we convey information, how it is discussed between friends, how it is conveyed in talk shows and over social media.”

 Information sharing and collaboration are not the only themes of the play, but the foundation upon which it was produced, stressed both Selim and Awad, who worked closely together and with others on the script, choreography and music composition.

“Amr and I wanted there to be a contribution from everybody, in their own way,” said Awad, who graduated from the Department of Communication Arts in 2016 with a BA in television and film. “We did not want to suppress anyone’s ambition in a specific talent,” he added.

They did quite the opposite, in fact. The two directors encouraged the cast to “go crazy and push what you think are your limits.” Selim said they wanted cast members to “feel ownership, to feel they are not being told what to do but rather contributing to the whole process.”

This led to the general eccentricity of the play, in which lines are spoken mainly in the Egyptian dialect and where the audience can expect to receive some kind of cryptic message on their mobiles before show time. The directors – both big fans of Egyptian pop culture – also included little messages in very short scenes that they hope the audience can relate to or learn something from.

Preparation for the play took around 10 weeks. It proved a challenging time for the directors, who had to manage a cast so large on a cross-campus production.

Another part of the production was the musical score, in which Selim and his team rearranged and wrote new lyrics for widely known songs, and produced original songs as well.

“Musically speaking, the production is very diverse,” said pre-med student George Chedid, who plays the casino’s accordionist. “We’ve got Umm Kulthoum, we’ve got rap and stuff that we composed,” he said.

But for the classically trained pianist and his fellow musicians, there was one thing they did not expect to hear from Selim: “You have to make this sound cheap – the quality of the music needs to be as high as ever, but the language used is cheap.”

“We usually go on stage and try to give our best performance,” Chedid said. “But the setting of the play being a cabaret, it was supposed to sound noisy and unorganized. It was a challenge to achieve that.”

Aside from the unexpected, there is one thing the audience can count on: lots of fun.

“We want to encourage the audience to do whatever they feel like doing – dance, laugh out loud…” said Awad. “Do whatever you feel. All we want you to do is feel.”


Casino el-Ons begins its run on April 10 at the Gulbenkian Theater on Beirut campus.