Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Seen August 1st, 2018
Reviewed by Mark Sykes
Having followed the development of the new musical Broken Wings for quite a while on social media, then obtained the concept album back in May and watched the YouTube recordings in awe of the talent on display, it was with much excitement that I visited the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Wednesday 1stAugust 2018 for its world premiere performance. It was a stunning portrayal of a story about love, heartbreak and tragedy, and which leaves a lasting impression on the audience.
I’ll admit that until Broken Wings surfaced as a new musical in development, I had never heard of the poet Kahlil Gibran, the third best-selling poet of all time. But having worked in Saudi Arabia for 6 months (in part wanting to learn more about their culture), Broken Wings once more sparked my interest in the Middle East and has provided an opportunity to learn a bit more about the culture of this region.
The show has a simple stage setting – the rear half has the orchestra sat either side of a raised element. In the first act, the older Gibran (supremely played by co-writer Nadim Naaman) is positioned here with his writing table as he narrates his story and watches on as his younger self (played by Rob Houchen) enacts his early life in the front half of the stage. The first act introduces all of the main characters and provides the setting for Gibran and Selma to meet and form a relationship that ultimately can never be consummated. I have seen Rob Houchen a number of times this year and he always impresses with his dynamite vocals. He has great chemistry with Selma, portrayed by the wonderful Nikita Johal. Nikita deserves special praise as she stepped-up from the ensemble at short notice to take on the lead role, and she performed it with a great sense of assurance and poise.
Selma’s father, Farris (Adam Linstead) and the Bishop (Irvine Iqbal) also provide focal elements of the story. Whilst Farris can see the blossoming relationship between his daughter and Gibran, he is persuaded by the Bishop to give her hand in marriage to another – and sets in motion a sequence of events that will lead to heartbreak and tragedy. Whilst Selma is married off to a philandering man she doesn’t love, her friendship with Gibran is rekindled via a series of illicit meetings. Ultimately though, Selma’s pregnancy and subsequent events (no spoilers here!) provide a devastating conclusion to this love story.
The second act has the staging partly reversed, with the older Gibran at the front of the stage providing narration for some of the scenes playing out on the raised element. I found this actually worked quite well; the lack of endless scenery transitions kept the story front and centre and continued to flow seamlessly. Having the orchestra on the stage was nice to see (and neatly dressed in appropriate attire) and was a positive enhancement. The only negative of the staging was the use of smoke/dry ice. I felt it didn’t add anything to the story or atmosphere; indeed there were occasions when events taking place in Farris’s garden were almost overwhelmed by the smoke (albeit this was less obtrusive in act 2).
The music, lyrics and orchestrations are really excellent and I would heartily recommend people buy the concept album if you don’t already have a copy. The stand-out songs are Selma and Spirit Of The Earth. This latter song (and it’s reprise as part of the Finale) is probably the highlight of the entire show. It brings the entire cast front and centre in an electric-charged performance that brings a lump in the throat; it compares equally to any of the big numbers in the likes of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, etc. Here though, I have to single out Soophia Foroughi who provides the lead vocals for this song and also plays Gibran’s mother. I am in love with this voice! If you watch the YouTube video of Spirit Of The Earth you’ll understand, but Soophia is one of those artists that sound even better live. A simply supreme vocal performance.
The entire cast, including ensemble members, were excellent; there wasn’t a single weak link. Joe Davison (Conductor) and the orchestra were also faultless; and again it was so nice to be able to see them in a West End show.
As for Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan, they have created something special. I so much hope that the four days at the Theatre Royal Haymarket is just the beginning for the stage show. It deserves an opportunity to grow and mature, and to perhaps come back bigger and better. Yes, I learned a bit more about Middle Eastern life, but people shouldn’t let it’s Lebanese origins put them off wanting to see this. Miss Saigon has a love story at its heart, with Vietnam as its setting; Broken Wings has similar parallels (as do many other successful musicals). Put any prejudices to one side and watch and listen to a genuine love story; you will be rewarded well.
Click here to see Hiba Elchikhe (Selma) and Rob Houchen (Younger Gibran) perform I know Now from the Broken Wings original concept album.
If you don’t already have the concept album, you can order it here.