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Wed 23 Jan 2019 01:58 PM

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Saudi Arabia eyes Lion King, Phantom to spur 'fun economy'

Turki Al Alshikh, new chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, says the kingdom will seek to land big theatrical productions

Saudi Arabia eyes Lion King, Phantom to spur 'fun economy'
Big theatrical productions like The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King are being targeted by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is seeking regional and international investment in its entertainment industry as part of a push to overhaul the economy for life after oil.

Turki Al Alshikh, newly appointed chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said the kingdom will seek to land big theatrical productions like The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King, as well as regional and international circuses in 2019 and 2020.

It also wants to hold more competitions, exhibitions, bazaars, stand-up comedy shows and themed attractions, he said, adding investment in the sector could create tens of thousands of jobs for Saudis, “if not hundreds” of thousands.

“Our doors are open,” Al Alshikh said.

The kingdom has loosened the reins on the entertainment industry since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assumed his de facto leadership vowing to reform the energy-dominated economy.

Authorities have lifted a 30-year ban on cinemas, while cafes are filled with music previously considered immoral in the conservative kingdom. Internationally known performers including Enrique Iglesias and Cirque du Soleil have packed arenas.

At a series of concerts held alongside the Formula E race in the Riyadh suburb of Diriyah in December, most people interviewed were positive about the changes.

Female spectators drove up to the race alone and uncovered in their sports cars, after the world’s last ban on women driving was scrapped.

But a simultaneous crackdown on dissent has led some inside the country and overseas to question whether the fun is just a distraction, a way of diverting criticism of a leadership that’s growing more authoritarian.