Review of Broken Wings at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal
Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal – Photos by Marc Brenner

The Lebanese/American poet and writer Khalil Gibran is most well-known for his poetry and prose stories comprising The Prophet published in 1923. Such is its popularity and appeal has been translated into over 40 different languages and has never been out of print and indeed it is one of my favourite books. I was intrigued to see a new musical based on Gibran’s poetic novel The Broken Wings which was first published in Arabic in 1912 and later adapted as a Lebanese film in 1962. It has all the ingredients necessary for a musical. Set in turn-of-the-century Beirut it is a tragic story of two people who love each other deeply but cannot be together because of culture and tradition.

The musical has been written by Middle Eastern duo Nadim Naaman (The Phantom of the Opera) and Dana Al Fardan (Qatar’s only female contemporary composer), directed by Bronagh Lagan with beautiful orchestrations by Joe Davison.

The opening notes of the score are evocative with the strings and then pianist transporting us to a tranquil and beautiful place. The 9 musicians comprising the orchestra deserve much acclaim, playing beautifully with exceptional musicianship and artistry conducted by Joe Davidson. Benjamin Cox on piano, Dmitri Torchinsky & Jessie May Smart violins, Jenny Ames Viola, Sophie Gledhill Cello, Laurence Ungless Double Bass, Tom Fleming Guitar/Mandolin, Gregory Knowles & Rich Burden on percussion.

As the overture fades the older Gibran appears silhouetted against a backdrop of 1923 New York City at his desk and starts to narrate his story. Nadim Naaman as Gibran is passionate and authentic and as he transports us back 20 years and across continents to turn-of-the-century Beirut where as a young man he fell in love with Selma Karamy.

After living for 5 years in America Gibran returns to Beruit to complete his education and reconnect with his heritage. He narrates the story of his first meeting with Selma and their subsequent struggle to be together. Despite their instant connection and ‘meeting of minds’, their love is doomed as Selma’s father arranges a marriage to a cleric’s nephew. Selma’s father loves her very much and only wants the best for her but at no point does he ask Selma what she would like to do. Gibran and Selma settle for deep platonic love and determine to meet in secret only to be discovered and devastatingly, separated forever. It is sobering that more than 100 years in 2018 on there are still many young women unable to marry who they would like to, or indeed not marry at all.

Everyone sings superbly and they have soaring melodies and eloquent, expressive lyrics to convey. And every single word was clear – that doesn’t often happen! There is, of course, glorious singing from Naaman – his prologue Heart Of The Earth was soul searing. Nikita Johal as Selma has a beautiful crystal clear soprano and her solo So Many Questions was sincere and passionate. Rob Houchen as young Gibran aged 18 perfectly captures the intensity of young love and all his solos and duets are magnificently sung and acted. Adam Linstead as Selma’s father Farris is warm and sympathetic, and Soophia Foroughi as Gibran’s Mother is blessed by perhaps the most compelling song in the musical Spirit of The Earth. Nadeem Crowe, Irvine Iqbal, Sami Lamine, Robert Hannouch, Lauren James Ray, Jack Chambers, Bronwen Hanson, Jake Stewart and Bethany Weaver complete this excellent cast.

There is much to appreciate and admire in this new musical. It has clearly been produced and prepared with love and care and attention to detail and the cast are wonderful. The difficulty of this story as a musical is that there is little ‘light relief’ and so practically every song is a ‘torch song’ with whoever is singing giving heart and soul to an outpouring of intense emotion. This makes it difficult to have anywhere else to go to in the next song. Even the ensemble numbers are intense as everyone searches for a brighter future full of hope. The musical style changes only briefly when there is a marketplace gathering and the music lightens and ‘dances’ a little. The overall score would perhaps balance better with a few less intense musical numbers to balance the undoubtedly beautiful power ballads. But the audience clearly loved it and the cast album has had wonderful reviews.

Broken Dreams only runs until the 4th of August and is definitely worth a visit. There is much excellence to enjoy.

3 stars

Reviewed by Catherine Françoise

Broken Wings is an autobiographical tale of tragic love based on Lebanese-born poet Kahlil Gibran’s 1912 masterpiece, with Book Music & Lyrics by West End star Nadim Naaman (“The Phantom of the Opera”) and Music and Lyrics by Dana Al Fardan, one of the Middle East’s leading contemporary composers.

Co-Writer Nadim Naaman leads the cast as the iconic Gibran, the show’s narrator, with Rob Houchen (Marius in the West End production of “Les Misérables” and “Titanic” at Charing Cross Theatre and just announced as Eugene in the return of Eugenius! The Musical) as Gibran’s teenage self, with Nikita Johal as Selma.

This moving new musical is directed by Bronagh Lagan, with orchestrations by Joe Davison. It is produced by Ali Matar.

The rest of the cast features Adam Linstead (Old Deuteronomy in Cats at the London Palladium and International Tour) as Farris, Soophia Foroughi (Elena in Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre and Lady of The Lake, Spamalot, English Theatre Frankfurt) as Mother, Nadeem Crowe (Doug/Mr.Spencer Williams in School of Rock at The Gillian Lynne Theatre and Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum) as Karim, Irvine Iqbal (currently playing Sultan in the West End production of Disney’s Aladdin) as Bishop Bulos Galib and Sami Lamine (Laila:The Musical, West Yorkshire Playhouse and UK Tour) as Mansour Bey Galib with Robert Hannouch (Godspell, UK Tour, Miracle on 34th Street, UK Tour) and Lauren James Ray (Rebecca in Imagine This, Union Theatre and understudied and played both Glinda and Nessarose in the West End production of Wicked) as ensemble.

Broken Wings
Book by Nadim Naaman
Music and Lyrics by Dana al Fardan
and Nadim Naaman
Wednesday 1- Saturday 4 August

Theatre Royal Haymarket