Book by Nadim Naaman
Music & Lyrics by Diana Al Fardan & Nadin Naaman.
Based on the novel The Broken Wings by Kahlil Gibran.
Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4HT from
1-4 August 2018.
Runs 2hr 20 mins One interval.
Concept album: www.auburnham.co.uk
Review: William Russell 4August
August is a wicked month and if you don’t have a tourist friendly show in the West End – one you don’t need to speak English to enjoy – then theatres can be dark. But it allows a chance for someone to showcase a new piece and at the Haymarket for four days only is the world premiere of a new musical which may well reappear in time for a proper run. This way it gets reviewed, favourable words are hopefully pronounced to be duly used to help “sell” it, and deficiencies can be spotted and perhaps remedied. So here we go.
On the face if it Kahlil Gibran’s novel should be the basis for a rather good musical about young love, other ways, other times and other places. It is about what happened when aged eighteen he returned to the Lebanon from the United States to which his family had emigrated and mets a girl called Selma with whom he fell in love at first sight. But this was Beirut of 1901 when women in the Lebanon – and elsewhere – were chattels to be disposed of for the mutual benefit of men. Marrying for love did not come into the equation.
The problem is Nadim Naaman’s book for the show, for which he also wrote some of the music, is dramatically inert. It all seems over by the end of Act One and there is no reason to return for the second half, no “curtain”. Another is that the young Gibran, although played with charm and very well sung by Rob Houchen, comes across as several sandwiches short of a picnic, a youth who has been unaffected by his American upbringing.
As the 41 year old Gibran Naaman narrating the tale about his younger self also sings and acts very well indeed, and there are lovely performances from Nikita Johal as Selma, Adam Linstead as her loving father who, in spite of agreeing to an arranged marriage to the local big boss bishop’s wastrel nephew, keeps throwing the young pair together, and Soophia Foroughi as a mother figure.
The score is melodious, but this is one of those musicals in which conversations are sung and when spoken words are stilted singing them does not improve things. There are some rousing tunes like Heart of the Earth very much in the manner of Schonberg or Lloyd Webber which pass the time but there is no standout love song and no musical feeling this is taking place in another world.
The book needs restructuring, those sung conversations should be dropped, the character of the young Gibran made a little less soppy, and the social comment about the society in Lebanon should be better set out – the bishop’s nasty nephew well played Sami Lamine had he mustachios he would have twirled them.
It was handsomely semi staged but director Bronagh Lagan’s tendency to let everyone with a big moment forget who they were singing to and perform concert style full on to the audience did not help.
Verdict: Well worth a tryout, has possibilities, but back to the drawing board.
Kahlil Gibran aged 41: Nadim Naaman.
Kahlil aged 18: Rob Houchen.
Selma Karamy: Nikita Johal.
Farris Karamy: Adam Llinstead.
Mother: Sophia Forough.
Karim Bawab: Nadeem Crowe.
Bishop Bulos Galib: Irvine Iqbal.
Mansour Bey Galib: Sami Lamine.
Ensemble: Robert Hannough, Lauren James Ray, Jack Chamber, Bronwen Hanson, Jake Stewart, Bethany Weaver.
Director Bronagh Lagan.
Musical Supervisor: James Shearman.
Musical Director: Joe Davison.
Set & Graphic Design: Claudia Rosas.
Set Designer: Mira Abad.
Costume Designer: Nik Corrall.
Lighting Designer: Nic Farman.
Sound: Ed Borgus, Simon Hendry, Fred Riding.
Movement Director: Philip Thomas