It is often interesting to come across the premiere of a new musical, especially when, as here, it is clearly a ‘work in progress’. Much effort and resources have clearly been spent, from the hiring of the vast London Coliseum for two nights, to the expenditure of an orchestra of 29 players in order to give this show every opportunity of showing its qualities.
Rumi was an early 13th-century “mystic, philosopher and poet who taught tolerance, non-discrimination, peace and… love” to quote the programme notes. He is claimed by Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan as being their “national poet”. One of the difficulties of making a musical out of his life is that it was so UN dramatic and in the end it was his meeting with Shams-i-Tabrizi in 1244 and the development of their powerful friendship that was chosen as the basis for this show. Shams ‘disappeared’ never to be seen again, in 1248…
I had expected the music, composed by the Qatari Dana al Fardan and Lebanese Nadim Naaman to sound much more ‘eastern’ than it actually did. In fact, every number could have come straight out of Les Miserables or similar shows. Each song is very pleasant on the ear without being particularly memorable, the vast majority being slow. In fact, I only counted two that could be called anything like ‘up tempo’. Their similarity to each other is heightened by the orchestration (Joe and Nikki Davison) whose orchestra consists almost entirely of string instruments. The Ney, Rehab, Qanun and Oud seem to be used very sparingly as do the wind instruments, but it was good to hear harpist Olivia Jageurs playing for the first time for many years.
The book was also written by Nadim Naaman, who had problems making the story into a drama. Even the addition of a subplot involving Ahmed Hamad as Aladdin only served to confuse. The sound design did not help here: sitting in a seat at the rear of the extreme right-hand side of the Dress Circle in the huge London Coliseum (reviewers do not always get the best seats!) it was often difficult to hear the dialogue, especially from Casey-al-Shaqsy as Aladdin’s love-interest, Kimya. This may not have been a problem in better seats, but, judging from the number of mobile phones being looked at near me whenever there was a dialogue sequence, I was not alone.
The co-composer Nadim Naaman looked the part in the role of Rumi and Ramin Karimloo made as much as possible out of Shams. Soophia Foroughi (Kara) demonstrated the best singing voice in the company and got more out of her duets ‘Only Us’ and ‘Somewhere’ than others managed to in their songs.
The show was semi-staged, with the orchestra occupying the space upstage. A basic yet effective set (Gregor Donelly) of arches defined the acting area to stage left with the performers moving furniture around as required, though one did get tired of the two sets of steps continually being cleaned! Traditional, colourful ‘Arab’ costumes were also designed by Donelly, the most striking being the white ones used for the end of Act One. Simple choreography was by Anjali Mehra and direction by Bronagh Lagan.
It would be good to see RUMI in a few years time when it is no longer the ‘work in progress’ I referred to above.
Review by John Groves
Based on a story about the 13th-century philosopher and poet Rumi by Evren Sharma, ‘Rumi: The Musical’ follows Al Fardan and Naaman’s 2018 debut musical, ‘Broken Wings’, which premiered in the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket before touring the Middle East.
The cast features Ramin Karimloo, Nadim Naaman, Casey Al-Shaqsy, Soophia Foroughi, Ahmed Hamad, Yazdan Qafouri, Johan Munir and Benjamin Armstrong, with an ensemble featuring Roshani Abbey, Amira Al Shanti, Eva-Theresa Chokarian, Maëva Feitelson, Sasha Ghoshal, Blythe Jandoo, Ediz Mahmut, Zara Naeem, Mark Samaras and Aliza Vakil.
‘Rumi: The Musical’ features a grand score that combines Middle Eastern authenticity with classical influences and contemporary musical theatre, with lyrics derived from Rumi’s poetry. It will premiere as a semi-staged concert on November 23 & 24. The live premiere follows the release of a full-length concept album on Broadway Records.
Produced by Ali Matar, ‘Rumi: The Musical’ is Directed by Bronagh Lagan and Choreographed by Anjali Mehra, with Musical Direction and Supervision by Joe and Nikki Davison and Middle Eastern Musical Supervision by Maias Alyamani. Set and Costume Design is by Gregor Donnelly, with Lightning Design by Nic Farman, Sound Design by Simon Hendry and Video Design by Matt Powell. Further Creatives include Aran Cherkez as Assistant Director, Natalie Pound as Assistant Musical Director and Mark Samaras as Assistant Choreographer.
Rumi: The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Dana Al Fardan
and Nadim Naaman
Book by Nadim Naaman
Based on a Story by Evren Sharma
St Martin’s Lane
London, WC2N 4ES
Tuesday 23 November, 2021 & Wednesday 24 November, 2021
Performance time: 7.30pm
Running time: 2hrs 20mins including interval