Pros: A refreshingly strong storyline for a musical, with superb attention to detail and an excellent score.
Cons: Although tuneful and pleasant, there are no real stand-out hit songs to make this production a truly great musical.
The air conditioning was happily in full effect at the Theatre Royal Haymarket as I took my seat for the premiere of Broken Wings. Launching a new musical is always a calculated risk but the producers pull it off with relative ease in this case. Based on a novel by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, Broken Wings tells the story of the poet’s early life in flashback.
The story begins in 1920s New York as a mature Gibran narrates his story through poetry and music. We are soon transported back to Beirut at the turn of the century. Having spent the previous five years in America, the eighteen year old has returned to complete his education and rediscover his heritage.
Gibran (Rob Houchen) falls madly in love with Selma (Nikita Johal), the daughter of family friend and respected businessman, Farris Karamy (Adam Linstead). But there is a storm brewing over this seemingly perfect romance; Selma is betrothed to Mansour Bey Galib (Sami Lamine), nephew of the powerful Bishop Bulos Galib (Irvine Iqbal), who has his eye on the Karamy family fortune. Gibran and Selma are soul mates and made for each other, but can their relationship survive under the weight of tradition demanded by Middle Eastern society?
Although essentially a love story, Broken Wings is charged with countless social issues that were prevalent in the 1900s but still resonate today: gender equality; the freedom to choose a life partner; tradition versus modernity; wealth versus happiness and immigration. All these come under the microscope.
The musical itself benefits from a sumptuous production with keen attention to detail and Middle Eastern dress codes. A small orchestra discreetly flanks the stage and blends in well, especially with string players sporting a fez. A solidly sweeping score pins the production down and allows the cast to be heard. The songs are melodic and pleasing to the ear although do on occasion sound very light. The best songs are the duets between young Gibran and Selma; especially I Know Now and Be Free. As is so often the case with a new musical, it lacks a big song to make it truly memorable. Whilst the strength of the story may make it a play with songs, rather than a typical musical, it’s still missing the showstopper it richly deserves.
However, it remains an enjoyable evening in the company of a talented cast and a production that leaves nothing to chance. Nadim Naaman deserves great credit for bringing this musical to the stage; playing the mature Gibran, with the added pressure of being co-creator is a towering achievement. The brevity of the current run implies a test phase, but I would say it has passed with flying colours.
Based on an original novel by: Kahlil Gibran
Book: Nadim Naaman
Music and Lyrics: Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Musical Director: Joe Davison
Producer: Ali Matar/AM Management
Box Office: 0207 930 8300
Booking Link: http://www.trh.co.uk/whatson/broken-wings/
Booking until: 4 August 2018 [this show has now completed its run]