Written by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan, the concept album of new musical Broken Wings marks an ambitious debut and an impressive arrival
“I remember the beauty of home”
Would you be able to name the third best-selling poet of all time? Behind Shakespeare and Laozi, it is actually the Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran. So adapting his work for the stage is perhaps something of a natural step, and an under-explored one given the Anglo-Saxon bias of the Western canon. And it feels only right that it should fall to a Lebanese man and a Qatari woman to compose a musical based on one of his most famous works.
The result is Broken Wings. A new musical which has not only released a concept album, but will play the Theatre Royal Haymarket for four nights in early August, marking the first Arabic-inspired musical to grace the West End. But is it any good? I have to say I have fallen hard for its charms, as it reveals itself to be a supremely confident piece of writing, and one which balances the melting pot of its influences with an almost classic approach.
From the stirringly bold melody of opener ‘All I Longed To See’, to the swooning balladry of ‘Selma’, to the delicate but hard-hitting power of the act one finale ‘Till Death Reunites Us’, Broken Wings feel both fresh and as if it has always existed. In some lights, the score recalls The Light Princess or The Grinning Man in the complexity of its emotional colour and the romantic pull it exerts, never better than in ‘Till Death Reunites Us’ with its constantly surprising and thrilling harmonies from Rob Houchen and Hiba Elchikhe.
They play a teenage Gibran and Selma, the daughter of a family friend, respectively and in the way of these things, theirs is a passion that is doomed. The story is narrated by an older version of Gibran which does have an impact on how the show flows – it’ll be interesting to see how that works out on the stage – but the dramatic terrain that there is is certainly sufficient to grip anyone with a heart.
I particularly love the way in which Al Farden and Naaman have clearly worked hard to pack the score with detailed texture, aided by Joe Davison’s orchestrations. Middle Eastern influences are certainly present but often subtly layered in – the string riffs that adorns tracks like ‘Farris Effandi Karamy’ or the plaintive ‘So Many Questions’, and the rhythm that underpins the glorious ‘Spirit of the Earth’. And as much attention has been paid to fashioned clean and solid tunes that have the warmth of the familiar even on first listen.
So a triumph then, a swooningly romantic piece of musical theatre that finds a true universality in the specificity of its story, and that is no small feat in itself. Buy the album. Go see the show. Support new writing. Encourage a widening of the kinds of stories we see on our stages, and of the people who get to write them. Be brave.