Wednesday, July 6

Broken Wings – Charing Cross Theatre

One of the lovely things about being a theatregoer is seeing a show grow from workshops, through to concert productions, and then being finally fully realised on stage. The joy is even greater when it’s clearly a passion project of its creators, and you can feel how much work and care has gone into its creation.  Such is the journey of ‘Broken Wings’, a British musical which started life 4 years ago as public readings, before enjoying well-received concerts at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and The Other Palace.  Its development continues with a new fully staged production at the London’s Charing Cross Theatre, where it opened this week.

With music and lyrics by Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman, ‘Broken Wings’ is adapted from Khalil Gibran’s novel of the same name and tells Gibran’s own story of an Arab immigrant who leaves Beirut as a child for a better life in America.  Returning to Beirut as a young man, Gibran meets Selma, and a strong connection and attraction forms.  Selma, however, is promised to a bishop’s nephew, a partnership which would bring financial and social benefits to both families.  Torn between following her duty and her heart, Selma struggles to reconcile her feelings with her identity, caught between doing right by her family and the potential of a future with Gibran.  The characters’ journey takes them from the joys of first love through to heartbreak, sacrifice and loss, but ultimately reminds us of the meaning of home, and that the most important thing is loving who we love, a message which remains as relevant today as it did over a century ago.

Credit: Danny Kaan

The book by Al Farden and Naaman (who also stars as the older Gibran narrating his story) is engaging and tells a great story, but some of the dialogue doesn’t ring true.  Although the poetic style suits Naaman’s delivery, it doesn’t entirely work for the rest of the scenes featuring the other characters; they don’t speak like real people and some interactions are overacted as a result.

Staging is minimal but mostly effective, relying heavily on a revolve which does starts to feel overused later on.  The show may have been better in a traditional staging rather than traverse, as unavoidably actors do perform with their backs to some of the audience throughout, often wandering from one side of the stage to the other in order to divide their time equally, which can look unintentionally awkward.  It must be said, however, that the Charing Cross Theatre is the perfect home for ‘Broken Wings’, it just feels like it fits, and it’s difficult to image the show in another venue.

The show’s trump card is the music, which is the best original British score in years, and elevates the show into something wonderful. Haunting and elegant, poetic and heartfelt, it’s a triumph, with moments that soar and recurring motifs that resonate throughout and carry you away.  It’s very rare that songs from an original musical make such an impact that they carry on swirling around your brain well into the following day, but ‘Broken Wings’ succeeds brilliantly on this front, containing several memorable compositions that embed themselves from the first listen and then refuse to let go, especially “All I Longed To See”, “I Know Now”, “Selma” and “Spirit Of The Earth”. 

Credit: Danny Kaan

Naaman makes for a captivating narrator, emoting great loss and pain in his delivery. His voice also blends wonderfully with his younger self (played by Lucca Chadwick-Patel, also excellent) which makes for some powerful moments.  Chadwick-Patel also has a charmingly innocent chemistry with Noah Sinigaglia’s Selma, and the pair make for a couple the audience really invests in, with Sinigaglia also in fine voice.  Soophia Foroughi as Gibran’s mother also gives a scene-stealing standout performance as the central focus of “Spirit Of The Earth” in the second act. It’s a shame the story can’t find more ways to use her, as she really is sublime. If you don’t have goosebumps during her number, check your pulse, you may be dead.

It’s refreshing to see an original musical that isn’t an American import, a jukebox creation or a biographical tale of a pop act who was famous decades ago.  Today’s theatre landscape can sometimes feel lacking in fresh new writing, and, script and staging issues aside, ‘Broken Wings’ proves that not only is the “original British musical” alive and well, it’s in very safe hands and with a very bright future.

‘Broken Wings’ runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 26th March 2022 with a performance runtime 2 hours 30 minutes including interval. https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/

Reviewer: Rob Bartley

Reviewed: 15th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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