For the majority of modern day U.K. audiences, the name Gibran Khalil Gibran might not immediately ring a bell, but one of his most successful works, The Prophet might be more familiar. The Lebanese writer, poet and artist was born in 1983 and moved to America as a child, before being sent back to Beirut as a teenager to study. Gibran’s own life mirrors the plot of his 1912 poetic novel, (The) Broken Wings, which is now presented as a musical at the Charing Cross Theatre.
This is the first fully staged run of Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan’s Broken Wings The Musical, though it has gone through several stages of development and iterations, including a concert at The Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2018. The musical version assumes the novel is biographical, and recreates the story with Gibran as the protagonist.
Directed by Bronagh Lagan, and presented in the round, Broken Wings begins in the 1920’s with a middle-aged Gibran (played by Nadim Naaman) looking back at a youth of unfulfilled opportunities. In flashback format we see the young Gilbran (Lucca Chadwick-Patel) travel home to Beirut where he meets Selma Karamy (Noah Sinigaglia) and the pair immediately fall head-over-heels in love with each other.
Of course, the path of true love doesn’t quite run smooth and the villains of the piece, Bishop Bulos (Johan Munir) and Mansour Bey Galib (Haroun Al Jeddal) have other plans in mind. This is a time and place where “women are purchased and delivered like a piece of furniture”, and there are several passionate pleas, in both spoken and song format, denouncing the slavery of women.
It may be almost a century since Gibran died, but the themes of his novel, and in turn Broken Wings The Musical, remain depressingly relevant; most notably immigration and gender equality. Naaman’s book eloquently gets these points across, and with an entire cast comprised of actors of MENASA heritage, this is an authentic piece of work.
The story itself sometimes finds itself lacking, the way it concentrates on the relationship between Gibran and Selma makes for a very beautiful love story, but at the expense of everything else. We learn very little about any of the other characters, and even the “evil” Bishop doesn’t seem nearly evil enough for the plot points to land.
However, the music more than makes up for that. Just as Gibran thought himself as Lebanese-American, the score of Broken Wings blends traditional music of the Middle East with Western sounds, and Joe Davison’s orchestrations are wonderfully rich and enjoyable.
‘Spirit of the Earth’ which is revived for the finale, is one of the standout numbers. Performed by the ethereal ‘Mother’ (Soophia Foroughi) but joined by the entire cast, it’s a joyous listen and reflects the strength of the piece, for a chamber musical it doesn’t half have a powerful score, which often takes your breath away.
It’s a strong principal cast, particularly Lucca Chdwick-Patel and Nadim Naaman as the younger and older Gibran, in the few instances where they sing together, it’s stunning. Chadwick-Patel has an easy-going charisma to him that makes the character very likeable indeed. Soophia Foroughi has perhaps the most powerful vocals, and Noah Sinigaglia perfectly teases out the internal conflict of Selma.
The poetic nature of Gibran’s original novel has been lovingly captured by Nadim Naaman in Broken Wings The Musical, and the colour, sounds, and aromas of Beirut are brought vividly to life on the Charing Cross Theatre’s revolving stage. It has the odd flaw, but this a brave new musical that will surprise and delight audiences.