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|First Islamic-American Musical|
|04/04/05 at 14:34:02|
|Looks interesting.. did anyone see it?? - J|
JAMEEL AND THE ISLAMIC MUSICAL DREAM: Local man hopes to turn classic poem 'Cloak' into the first American-Islamic musical
BY MARTIN F. KOHN
FREE PRESS THEATER CRITIC
December 15, 2004
Jameel Syed, with the help of some friends, will be presenting "The Poem of the Cloak" at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.
In September, entrepreneur Jameel Syed telephoned Ray Alcodray and asked him to direct a play. It would be, Syed claimed, the first American-Islamic musical in history.
Alcodray was pretty sure Syed was correct. An actor, playwright, director and founder of the Dearborn-based Arab Theatrical Arts Guild, Alcodray is Muslim. Given his background, if anyone can say authoritatively that there has never before been an American-Islamic musical, it would be he.
Alcodray is also an automotive engineer, and his background both practical and artistic prompted Alcodray to ask Syed a question:
"Do you have a script?"
Well, no, Syed said.
"That's your first problem," Alcodray told him.
But, Syed persisted, he already had a date booked for the show.
"That," said Alcodray, "is your second problem."
The date was -- as is -- March 17, 2005, Syed said, and the place, the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. Alcodray knew the space. The Ford Center has a nice little black-box theater, a flexible, rectangular space with no fixed stage and room for about 200 patrons in moveable chairs. Alcodray has put on plays there himself.
No, Syed said. He was talking about the main theater at the Ford Center -- the one that holds an audience of 1,200 in plush-covered folding-seat comfort.
That, Alcodray told Syed, might be your third problem.
Maybe so, Syed countered, but he'd already started selling tickets and had, by that time, sold a third of all the seats. Not coincidentally, Syed heads a marketing company in Auburn Hills called Fluid Visions.
"The guy's gutsy," Alcodray says.
Three months later, over breakfast at a Dearborn restaurant, Syed and Alcodray delightedly talk about what happened next.
Alcodray said he'd consider directing the show if Syed, as producer, could furnish him a script within six weeks. Syed, who had the basic concept in mind, called upon Adeel Ahmad, whom he knew from their student days at the University of Michigan. Ahmad is a physician doing his second year of residency at New York University, but he majored in film and video studies.
Six weeks later, Ahmad's script was in Alcodray's hands.
'The Poem of the Cloak'
The play is called "The Poem of the Cloak," which is also the name of a poem recognizable throughout Islam. A long poem in praise of the prophet Muhammad, "The Poem of the Cloak" (in Arabic, "Qasidah al Burdah") was written more than 700 years ago by an Egyptian, Imam Sharafuddin Busiri (c. 1211-1294).
An extraordinary story goes with the poem.
"Busiri became paralyzed. All his physicians had written him off and told him he'd be paralyzed until he died," Syed says. He turns to his religion, aspiring to improve his character as Islam prescribes. One day he composes the poem, falls asleep and finds himself in the prophet's mosque, his poem having reached Muhammad's ears.
Muhammad drapes his cloak over Busiri's legs. When Busiri awakens he finds the cloak, and he is no longer paralyzed.
The poem and the story behind it figure strongly in the play, which is in English and whose characters are contemporary American Muslims. "We want to use the ancient piece in a modern context," Syed says.
There are four principal characters and five others, playwright Ahmad says in a telephone interview from New York. The main characters are a man named Syed; his two grown sons, Atif and Rizwan; and Amer, the family's doctor and friend. Atif "went into medicine, he's a resident himself," Ahmad says. Rizwan, the younger and more rebellious son, is a college student who wants to go his own way and pursue a career in music.
The play begins after the funeral of Syed's wife and the young men's mother. She had been the family peacekeeper. "All the tensions that were mediated and dealt with by the mother come to the surface," Ahmad says. "The father is left to deal with them. I wouldn't say he's inept, but he's not as capable as the mother."
The major conflict, between the father and his independent-minded younger son becomes so heated that the younger man leaves home.
Syed is diagnosed with a terminal illness, older son Atif assumes the role of peacemaker, and Amer, the family doctor, brings the ancient poem to their attention. The poem and its story remind everyone in the family of their core values, Ahmad says, and help them to reconcile.
American Muslim identity
The playwright, producer and director all view the production as an important step in putting a public face on American Muslims.
"As first-generation Muslim Americans we haven't had a lot of representation in the media and we haven't had a lot of representation in the arts in America," Ahmad says. Like the characters in the play, "We have to deal with deaths in the family, we have to deal with children who don't want to do what their parents want them to do."
Being Muslim, he says, "is not just about trying to enter paradise. We have to live daily lives, too. I think art is a great way to show this, especially theater."
Ahmad, 27; Syed, 30, and Alcodray, 42, were all born in this country. Their parents were not: Ahmad's parents are from Pakistan, Syed's from Pakistan and India, and Alcodray's from Lebanon.
"There are so many issues that need to be addressed" among American Muslims, Ahmad says. "Being immigrants and children of immigrants and trying to reconcile these two cultures... In addition, there is as much a human realm to our lives as there is to anybody else's."
"If you don't define yourself, you run the risk of someone else doing it for you," says Alcodray. He hopes the play will help in building what he calls an "American Muslim identity."
As for why there has never been an American-Islamic musical, Alcodray notes a reluctance among more conservative Muslims to embrace such an endeavor; indeed, a small percentage may be offended seeing men and women sharing a stage. For that reason, "The Poem of the Cloak" will have an all-male cast.
Meanwhile, the music in "The Poem of the Cloak" consists of verses from the poem sung in different styles, says Syed. Because the poem is known so widely, there are as many ways of singing it as there are Islamic cultures and nationalities.
Syed already has singers lined up. He, Alcodray and Ahmad are seeking actors. (Ahmad, in New York, will look at auditions on videotape.) "We would like to have actors of all different backgrounds," not necessarily Muslims, Syed says. "We are looking for American people."
And they're looking for pros. "We need people with professional capabilities. There will be pay," says Alcodray. "My expectations as director are high."
Auditions for actors are scheduled for 8-10 p.m. Jan. 6-7 in Studio A of the Ford Center. For audition information call 810-531-0386. For ticket information call 586-291-8890 or go to www.poemofthecloak.com.
|04/04/05 at 14:35:13|
|04/15/05 at 12:48:08|
lol, i was thinking about how funny it would be if there were only men in the musical....and the guys had to play girl parts. but im sure they'll work around that.
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