Expo 2020 Dubai: Kevin Oliver promises a dazzling children's choir performance

The veteran of musical theatre in the city spoke to us about his latest project.

Kevin Oliver with the GEMS children's choir (Photos/Supplied)
Kevin Oliver with the GEMS children's choir (Photos/Supplied)

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Mon 8 Nov 2021, 5:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 9 Nov 2021, 2:05 PM

Dubai-based teacher-mentor-playwright Kevin Oliver’s repertoire is well known in UAE circles. From Starlight Express and Saturday Night Fever to Clowns and Cats among many more engaging student-led musicals over a period of almost three decades, Oliver’s theatrical productions have gained acclaim far and wide.

Oliver, who is Group Cultural Co-ordinator, GEMS, was happy to share with City Times details of his latest passion project - a performance by a children’s choir at the December 12 opening of RewirEd Global Education Summit led by Dubai Cares, at Expo 2020 Dubai. A song specially chosen for the event will be performed by twenty-five students personally auditioned by Oliver, from across several GEMS Education schools in the UAE.

Being fans of his impressive body of work and knowing his penchant for being a perfectionist (gleaned in an insightful 2017 interview with City Times about his original pop opera The Lost), we were curious to know more about this latest production from Dubai’s own ’Andrew Lloyd Webber’.

Oliver revealed students from various GEMS schools “have been chosen very carefully to come together for this extremely special event and they are very excited to be given this chance to take part at the Expo venue.”

What was the process of auditioning like?

“I went to the schools that I hoped had the talent that I was looking for. The brief was to keep communities and a mix of nationalities in mind, without sacrificing the talent level, and I was completely amazed with the level I found...everywhere I went. I generally work with students who are in high school or the secondary level and this is my prowling area to hear voices and sounds that I can blend into a harmony that is unique and different. Taking a song and finding the message and the soul of it and then trying to bring that out in interpretation with dynamics and modulation is what excites me the most.”

He added that rehearsals take place Saturdays from 9.30 in the morning to around 11am... and will continue till the day of the performance.

A veteran in the field of musical theatre, Oliver elaborated on some of the rewards and challenges of putting up a live stage performance.

“The rewards are so many. Taking a raw voice on a journey from start to finish is so very special and I love this. When I finally get the blend of what I am looking for – that’s the ultimate reward. The challenge is to find that special sound or voice. I go through so many auditions looking for that special ‘X Factor’ a certain student might possess.”

‘Thank you Dubai’

Like many long-term expats, Oliver is thankful that the UAE’s progress was reflected in his own personal creative journey.

“I have lived and worked in the Dubai for over 25 years and the changes in the city match the growth period I have gone through, and believe me, I have loved every single moment of this journey. This city is truly special. There have been many changes. GEMS has grown from a small group of a few schools to this huge community of over 60 schools worldwide.. and from productions of Starlight Express in the early 90s to my last original operas (Shakuntala and The Lost) that I have staged in Dubai and at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh – the journey and development has been amazing. I could never have achieved this growth anywhere else in the world. Thank you Dubai.”

Oliver also touched on his journey of mentoring students from different generations and how the digital era has affected creativity, commenting on how “motivating and developing talent in the past was so easy.”

“Students just wanted to be a part of the movement, be it theatre or music or dance,” he said, adding that now, mobile phones were more of a disruption than an inspiration and focus didn’t always come easily.

Being on stage is magical

However he still feels “music and theatre brings out the best in every one of us”, concurring that such pursuits are an essential part of education today and can make a drastic difference to one’s confidence and attitude towards life.

“Why only children – I think the adult world could never do without the comfort of music and the magic of theatre. The creative arts has always been the best part of growing up and schools need this to open a child to what we call the holistic being. Being on stage, even if it is the drawing room of your home or the open space in your garden, the front of the class room or the large spotlit area of a professional theatre, brings out a certain confidence and a positive attitude in every one of us. The student or the adult always celebrates that one moment and remembers it forever.”

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