• Abigail Hall

Wichitan brings new musical to town, explores Lebanese culture, roots

Originally published by Wichita Eagle, August 11, 2019.

The food, music and culture of Lebanon is coming to Wichita in the form of a musical this August.

Born-and-raised Wichitan Alex Wakim will premiere his musical, “An American in Beirut” Aug. 15-16 at the Crown Uptown Theatre.

Wakim, the son of Lebanese immigrants, with co-writer Chantal Bilodeau, penned the story and composed the music based on his experience of finding himself within dual cultures, and discovering the beauty of the land of Lebanon.

Wakim says it’s a strange, but “beautiful place” to be.

“I go to Lebanon and I’m the American kid, here I’m the Lebanese kid,” Wakim said. “It’s a beautiful place because I have access to this rich culture of Lebanon. And I’m also thankful to be raised in America, where I have an understanding of ... how to be successful in this country.”

The musical follows Anna, an American who discovers she is 1/32nd Lebanese who travels to Beirut on a mission to understand her roots. Upon her arrival, Anna meets Jack, a Lebanese-American, and the two embark on a journey where they must reconcile how their roots define who they are, Wakim said.

“Is it the food you eat, is it the language you speak — what really defines us?” Wakim said.

The corresponding music is just as diverse and culturally intertwined as Wakim’s characters — with influences of his Orthodox background from Byzantine chants to the Arabic melodies of Lebanon, with jazz, French and traditional musical theater music, he said.

“It’s kind of like an organized, crazy blend — all mashed up into one,” Wakim said.

He describes the musical as a comedy with dramatic moments, and while the ending is happy — it’s “not in the way you’re going to expect,” he said.

“My goal is to leave people with a lot of questions about themselves,” Wakim said. “Good questions.”

As it is currently written, the musical has never been performed. In 2018, a previous draft of the musical received a stage reading at K-State, as part of the theater season, but the Wichita show will be the premiere of current draft, Wakim said.

The musical has eight cast members, a six-piece band and minimal staging to focus on the music and story, he said.

While Wakim is now based in New York where he studies film music at New York University, he wanted to premiere the show in his home-town because of the diverse community and his wide support system.

“I think they’re really going to enjoy it,” Wakim said. “ (Wichita) is a very diverse community.”

After the Wichita premiere, Wakim hopes to continue to workshop the musical and pursue new opportunities for the project, he said.

Directed by K-State professor Jennifer Vellenga, “An American in Beirut” premieres at the Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15, with a second show on Aug. 16.

Tickets are available for purchase online at www.crownuptown.com for $25 for adults, $14 for members of the military, seniors teachers and students and $40 for reserved floor VIP tickets. The show is recommended for ages 13 and up.

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