wed 29/06/2022

Broken Wings, Charing Cross Theatre review - new musical fails to fly | reviews, news & interviews

Broken Wings, Charing Cross Theatre review - new musical fails to fly

Broken Wings, Charing Cross Theatre review - new musical fails to fly

Plodding book detailing a poet's sentimental education falls flat on stage

Earthbound: Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Noah Sinigaglia in 'Broken Wings' Danny Kaan

Somewhere in the world right now, one can hear Mister Mister's AOR hit, "Broken Wings" on an MOR radio station, capturing mid-Eighties synth pop perfectly. Few listeners will know that its inspiration is a 1912 autobiographical novel by Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran. A source that worked for a four-minute pop song has now been extended by two hours and made into a West End musical.

Stranger ideas have worked – unfortunately, this one doesn't.

Having fled Beirut as a child with his mother and siblings when his father was imprisoned, 18 year-old Gibran returns from America at the turn of the 20th century and is bewitched by Beirut's exotic charm. A budding poet, he's never without his notebook and soon he is filling it with thoughts inspired by Selma, the beautiful daughter of his father's best friend, and heir to a fortune. She's mad about him too, but (and you knew that but was coming) the powerful Bishop Gulos Galib has made an offer her father can't refuse and she's to be married to his philandering, dilettante nephew, Mansour.

With echoes of Romeo and Juliet (director, Bronagh Lagan, lets us in on Selma's fate in the prologue) and a touch of Great Expectations' thwarted infatuation, this terrain feels overly familiar. The show needs something special to ignite our interest and lift it from being just another tragic love triangle – and the raw material is certainly there.

Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Noah Sinigaglia make a handsome couple and both can sing, but neither convinced as lovers so rapt in love's first flush that they were willing to risk everything. Perhaps they will loosen up a little later in the run, but other than being told in song (many times) that they were besotted with each other, there was little discernable chemistry between them. Indeed, Haroun Al Jeddal exuded much more sex-appeal as the rakish Mansour and Ayesha Patel's eyes shone with much more passion as Dima, somewhat inexplicably exiled to the friend zone by Gibran.

The glamour of Beirut, the "Paris of the Middle East", is largely confined to musings about sunsets over mountains and walks in shaded temples, though Nic Farman's bravura lighting does a fine job in suggesting Mediterranean heat and dust. There's allusions to the source poetry too in Nadim Naaman (pictured above as the older Gibran) and Dana Al Fardan's songs, but the stilted dialogue and glacial pacing saps interest (do we need two consecutive songs extolling the virtues of motherhood?)

The absence of a catchy tune or two to send you toe-tapping to the Tube has never stopped Stephen Sondheim's musicals succeeding and the catalogue of power ballads, with mighty orchestrations by Joe Davison, are all sung beautifully, so there's plenty to please fans of musical theatre's more grandiloquent tendencies. Soophia Foroughi possesses the standout voice and her "Spirit of the Earth" is the standout number. The tone remains disappointingly one-pitched across the full running time, with a sense of doom in the air from very start – I can't have been alone in longing for a little laughter or lightness of touch to release a little positive energy.

New musicals are notoriously demanding to develop and this production has seen a concept album released, semi-staged concerts in the West End and runs in the United Arab Emirates already. What emerges is a musical that, in its desire to stay true to its source material's themes and honour Gibran's enlightened approach to women's agency in a patriarchal world, has lost too much of the impetus, the light and shade, that a show with ambitions like this one requires. 

Sadly, like a dove with broken wings, it stumbles when it should soar.

Comments

No catchy tunes in Sondheim? I completely disagree.

Not no catchy tunes, but fewer hooks than say Lionel Bart or Richard Rodgers - not that it mattered, Sondheim was a great on his own terms. 

Reply to Broken Wings Review Broken Wings, the new musical at London’s Charing Cross theater is bound to get mixed reviews - a few positive by lovers of author Kahlil Gibran’s works along with scathing reactions by academics who accuse the Lebanese American poet of sentimental Orientalism. This dialogue has been ongoing for nearly a century, - actually since 1923 with Alfred Knopf’s publication of his longtime best seller The Prophet. Gibran’s early experiences in literary Boston are seldom detailed. Do the producers, writers, critics give credit to the origins of Gibran’s title - Broken Wings? Wouldn’t the British audience love to know that the !910 Stratford and Avon prize winner is responsible for the title of the current production? Poet Josephine Preston Peabody whose The Piper was produced in Stratford, London and New York also mentored young Gibran during his artistic maturation. From their 1898 meeting till their 1905 separation, it was Josephine who called him her “Syrian Genius” and wrote a poem about him watching sheep in his hometown Bsharri near the Cedars of Lebanon. They shared works, and during their dalliance he read excerpts from her Wings a one act play she was writing during their early twentieth century friendship. Forever moved by her 1906 marriage to Harvard Professor Lionel Marks, Gibran carried with him echoes of her words. And in 1912 entitled his semi-autobiographical love story, after the final lines of her drama: "Broken Wings".

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