With heartbreak, joy and passion dripping from every note, can the last three weeks mend this musical’s broken wings?
This new musical, adapted from the 1912 biographical novel by Kahlil Gibran, Broken Wings is a story about love, loss and predetermined societal roles. Set in Beirut, it follows the journey of Gibran Kahlil Gibran as he returns to his homeland from the U.S. to study, reunite with old friends an ultimately fall in love.
Walking into the theatre, the audience is split on either side of the stage, with the orchestra warming up on one of the two balconies. As the house lights dim on an intimate mid-week audience, the violinist (Calyssa Davidson) and cellist (Meera Raja) take up a mournful and reminiscent duet. Nadim Naaman playing the forty-year-old Kahlil Gibran walks onto the stage, pours a whiskey and begins his story.
Naaman remains onstage for the duration of the show as he narrates his story, giving opportunity for some beautiful duets between the two Kahlil Gibrans, as seen in the ending of “’Till Death Reunites Us”. Lucca Chadwick-Patel’s portrayal of the younger Kahlil Gibran with strong northern accent, bouncing character and big naïve grin, made you side with this young protagonist instantly providing the perfect tragic juxtaposition between young and grief-stricken older Gibran.
The casting in this production was utterly superb. A tough feat for most musicals but made all the more impressive when one considers the major cast change. Due to illness, Ayesha Patel took on the role of the beloved Selma Karamy, Yasmeen Audi turned from mother to daughter becoming Dima Bawab, whilst Soophia Forough combined her role of Mother with the role of Layla Bawab.
The interaction between cast members seemed truly genuine eclipsing any awkward moments of audience engagement - with such an intimate audience there were some special moments to connect personally with the audience that were sadly missed. Selma’s father, Farris Karamy (Stephen Rahman-Hughes), encompassed one of the most believable fatherly figures I’d seen whilst the uncle-nephew double act of the bishop (Johan Munir) and Mansour (Haroun Al Jeddal) evoked instant disdain for the audience. However, it was the chemistry between Dima and Kahlil that stole the heart: their closeness and ease had you at moments screaming inside “you should be with her, Kahlil!”. Originally cast to be a man, Dima held the audience with bated breath as she unveiled the uncle and nephew’s evil plan and it’s here that the musical really shines.
Co-composed by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan, every piece (with the exception of Holy Matrimony) spilled over with emotion. The musicians in this production were essential in taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. Whether through the soaring melodic lines of the violin that made your heart sing, the mournful introductions of the cello and clarinet (Ruth Whybrow) to feel you with sadness or the moments of improvised Arabic flourishes from the cello that gave the music a really authentic feel. Soophia Foroughi during her “Spirit of the Earth” mesmerised the audience with her stunning vocals and range of emotion. But for me, it was Naaman’s well-timed hand slap on the desk in desperation during “That was the day”, that beautifully summed up the knife twist of injustice that is Selma’s fate.
Personally, I found the staging difficult: the positioning of the centre stage and the actors splitting their time between both sides of the room - even with the help of a turntable – broke engagement with the audience. Of course, due to the major change in cast there was the odd stumble over lines or patches of awkward intonation in the vocal harmonies but ultimately it was the music and the interaction between cast members that made this a winner for me.
Past critics are correct: the portrayal of the love between Kahlil and Selma is naïve, sickeningly sweet and at times too much – but isn’t it supposed to be? Think Romeo and Juliet or Moulin Rouge: hopeless romantics want to see a love that defies all rhyme or reason and like these, Broken Wings goes so much further than just the simple love story. This musical is a timeless piece showcasing the truly painful plight of women not just in a 1912 Beirut but throughout history: treated like a commodity, sold for connections and trapped by societal expectations.
Broken Wings has three weeks left at Charing Cross Theatre. To book tickets visit: https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/broken-wings
Congratulations to everyone involved!