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Broken Wings at Theatre Royal Haymarket | Review

Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal - Photo by Marc Brenner
Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal – Photo by Marc Brenner

Broken Wings has, as its core, Selma Karamy (Nikita Johal), a young lady who had a kind and loving father, Farris (Adam Linstead). In some ways, it is very much of its time – the Beirut of Broken Wings had its own challenges, as the narrative makes clear. It may have been a very traditionalist society, at least through the eyes of Kahlil Gibran (Nadim Naaman) but, being largely set between 1901 and 1903, this was well before World War One, and the subsequent wars and battles that ravaged the region, and to some extent still do.

The poetic novel, first published in 1912, tells the story from a first-person perspective, in retrospect – memoirs, so to speak. This musical adaptation assumes it is autobiographical, and dramatizes what occurred, with Gibran at 40 years of age expressing his personal opinions and observations, looking on as his 18-year-old self (Rob Houchen) pursues Selma, whom he loves for all sorts of reasons. It’s too much of a spoiler, I’m afraid, to start listing them – suffice to say the feeling is mutual, and the relationship more than skin deep.

The words ‘arranged marriage’ are not, as far as I can recall, used in this show, though Selma finds herself getting married to Mansour Bey Galib (Sami Lamine), the nephew of Bishop Bulos Galib (Irvine Iqbal). The latter is portrayed here more as a clergyman of his time – the translation of the novel freely available on Project Gutenberg describes him as evil, a man “whose wickedness hides in the shadow of his Gospel”. Mansour Bey is something of a hedonist, failing to heed warnings from the Bishop about spending so much time with so many women. A rare comical moment in the show arises from the preacher almost barking, “Give my regards to your wife!”, sparking an immediate reaction from the lady Mansour Bey was with at that very moment. Unlike the title character in Molière’s play Don Juan, there isn’t even an attempt at lip service to wise counsel.

There are some voices in fine form in this production, with all the male leads proving equally adept at handling the majestic melodies. For a show that highlights the lack of dignity afforded to women, it’s surprising that Soophia Foroughi’s character didn’t have a more individual name than ‘Mother’; nonetheless, Foroughi steals the show in the production’s eleven-o’clock number, ‘Spirit of the Earth’. The musical numbers are performed with excellence by nine on-stage musicians under the direction of Joe Davison, with an emphasis on stringed instruments that suited the production well.

It is deep and philosophical, and there is still a small part of me that thinks this story would be better adapted into a play rather than a musical. But when a critical incident involving Selma unfolds, there were tears from certain members of the audience, such was its emotional impact. Not that a play couldn’t achieve that sort of effect (I once witnessed a grown man bawling his eyes out at the end of a performance of the Arthur Miller play All My Sons), but there’s something about conveying feelings through song that adds an extra element to a scene.

Steadily-paced, there aren’t very many roof-raising numbers – you’ll have to take my word for it: the plot wouldn’t suit those sorts of tunes anyway. On paper, the music is a tad repetitive and even borderline one-dimensional. But brought to life in this production, it becomes something rather compelling. If you’ve ever wondered if it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, Broken Wings provides much food for thought. A heartfelt and heavenly production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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


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