Love. Music. Freedom. These are the universal themes at the heart of “We Live in Cairo,” a new musical by Daniel and Patrick Lazour, which is having its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater. Set during the January 25 Revolution, the 2011 uprising in Egypt, the work, under the music direction of Madeline Smith and music supervision of Michael Starobin, celebrates the hope and exuberance of the uprising, even as it acknowledges the turmoil that has followed.
The brainchild of the Lazours, brothers of Lebanese descent who began writing musicals together in their early teens, “We Live in Cairo” focuses on six young people at the heart of the protests that filled that city’s Tahrir Square with music and cries of “Bread, freedom, and social justice,” ultimately bringing down the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. As the production, which is directed by Taibi Magar and choreographed by Samar Haddad King, went into its final rehearsals, the Gazette sat down with the brothers and Tarek Masoud. Masoud, who served as a consultant on the project, is the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School and the son of Egyptian immigrants.
Masoud’s perspective is useful, say the brothers, because he provides a scholar’s frame of reference. He will speak after the 2 p.m. performance on June 1 as part of a series of post-show discussions called Act II.
Daniel Lazour said that when the project began in 2013, “We were just really taken with the jubilation of 2011.” He cited the rapid growth of the uprising, which drew “a million people in Tahrir Square during the 18 days” of protest.
Like those protesters, the brothers were enthralled by the possibilities of the Arab Spring, which had begun a month earlier in Tunisia. “These characters are dealing with hopes and dreams about a secular government and a government of democracy, a government where they can express themselves fully and freely,” said Patrick Lazour. In this context, he said, a musical made perfect sense. “This revolution was truly a moment for the artists of Egypt and to express themselves.”
“That’s where the narrative sort of ended for our first draft,” said Daniel. “We were like, isn’t this great? As things started unfolding post-revolution, we realized that the story needed to encapsulate that as well.”