Debbie Allen discusses her breakthrough musical OMANâ€¦O Man!
By Brandon I. Brooks Sentinel Entertainment Editor Debbie Allen is set to bring Los Angeles a special engagement of entertainment as she presents her critically acclaimed dance driven musical "OMAN...O Man!", at UCLAâ€™s Royce Hall from Thursday, December 10th through Saturday, December 12th .
The musical is based upon two young men-one Omani (Muslim) and the other an African-American (Christian)-who are roommates at a military academy. Through music, movement, song, and dance, the young men take a magical journey discovering the similarities and the differences between their two cultures, as they learn much about each other.
Debbi Allen first gained interest in the idea of a cutting edge musical after taking a trip to the Middle East and experiencing firsthand the similarities and differences between the two cultures and religions.
Many people don't know but Debbie Allen has worked at the Kennedy Center as artist and residence for 15 years now. There she has created 10 amazing musical productions that have been focused on family inspiration for young people in the arts.
The Kennedy Center decided to do a festival called "Arabesque" which would celebrate Muslim culture and the arts of the Muslim world. Kennedy Center brought in over 300 artists form all over the Middle East, over 22 countries and Debbie Allen was the one that they selected to do the only commissioned original piece in celebration of this festival.
"My mandate was to go and find Middle Eastern artists that I could combine with some of the dance artist and talent from my dance academy and from the Washington area and create something wonderful," Allen said. "Well that sounds like a simple enough task but that was a daunting task (laughs)."
During this time period Allen traveled to the Middle East. "I went to the country called Oman, which is the north eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, and this country has an amazing history that intertwines and resonates with us and me personally because they actually colonized East Africa for a long time and in Oman one of their main languages is Swahili," Allen said.
"Also they have a sultan who came into power in 1970 and this is a man who has taken Muslim culture and is looking out and not looking in. So I read his autobiography and about fifteen other books. But I was inspired that he went to a military school and I thought well that would be a great core, a great starting point for a great conversation, between two young boys from opposite ends of the world, in a military school that end up being roommates, what would the conversation be like. So there is the genesis and the inspiration for "OMAN...O Man!"
After viewing the musical at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington D.C. Michelle Obama was quoted as saying, "Every child in America needs to see this."
The Sentinel asked Debbie Allen to share how she felt about President Obama authorizing thousands of more troops to Afghanistan?
Allen shared with the Sentinel, "I feel this play is timely because of what is going on but I also have great, great faith and belief in President Obama. He has made a very patience and waited decision. He hasn't made a decision based on anything rash or something that he feels personally or some business decision. He has made a very waited decision and I will stand by what his decision is because we have to know that the surge helped in Iraq and we know we probably have been focused on the wrong path for many years now, unfortunately. And Afghanistan is a very volatile area. We have to go in and help. The people there are really suffering. As long as we are not there with an agenda with an agenda of oil to go and take over a country so we can have their resources, which I don't think President Obama is trying to do. I think he is trying to do the right thing so I stand behind him and will thinking about him when he wins his Nobel Peace Prize."
One thing for sure is "OMAN...O Man!" will without a doubt help ignite more of a conversation that needs to be continued.
The importance is that the audience will leave educated and not view all Muslim people as just war hungry but see through the negative stereotypes of Islam which we are always bombarded with through different media mediums.
"There some many wonderful things," Allen said. "Islam is the fastest and the largest growing religion in the world. "There are millions of Muslim people who Jihad for them means a battle for themselves, to fight against those mortal or physical desires so that they could become more pure. That's what Jihad means to them. Not picking up a gun and blowing people up. That's not what it means. So we have to come to another understanding."
So what's up next for Debbie Allen?
Allen's main mission and focus is with her dance academy. She shared with the Sentinel that she wants to make dance and the arts accessible to as many young people as she can get her hands on.
"Today the education of young people is so compromised by just testing and just a focus on statistics as supposed to what happens to the individual," Allen said.
"The study of the arts will enhance every young person's sense of confidence, it will ignite their creativity and you just can't pay for that. So I am just determined to keep this school open. I am determined; I am always out there beating the bushes trying to raise money. I never have enough money for kids who need help. But that's what I am going to do."
Debbie Allen is scheduled to direct Mariah Carrey at Madison Square Garden this coming New Year's Eve. She recently took a trip to London where she opened "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" with James Earl Jones, Sanaa Lathan and he sister Phalyshia Rashad. "I will continue to do all things that I do, Allen said. "But my real passion is young people and the arts and giving them what I have. I am just trying to give it, that's what I am trying to do."