Charing Cross Theatre, London, until March 26
Making an engaging musical about the perils of arranged marriage in Beirut at the turn of the 20th century was always going to be a tall order, but Bronagh Lagan, the director of Broken Wings, somehow manages to pull it off. It helps matters greatly that she has got together especially fine ensembles of young actors and musicians who make Nadim Naaman’s adaptation of Khalil Gibran’s novel of the same name worth a lot more than the sum of its parts.
As the star-cross’d lovers at its heart, Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Noah Sinigaglia shine and there is a poignant chemistry between Chadwick-Patel and Naaman (yes, the writer) as his older self. Haroun Al Jeddal is suitably ghastly as the man Sinigaglia’s character is expected to marry.
Arranged marriage is rightly frowned upon in the UK, but in one way or another it still goes on across all cultures, meaning this is a production that has a universal, rather than a purely Middle Eastern appeal. I well remember the late Dame Barbara Cartland telling me she thought nothing of Prince Charles marrying Lady Diana Spencer for the sake of appearances and then seeking solace elsewhere. That, she suggested, was how it had always been for aristocratic men.
The music and lyrics by Dana Al Fardan and Naaman (yes, it’s him again) – orchestrated and arranged by Joe Davison – are enormously stirring in parts and less so in others, but, for all that, it hangs together. It has the feel at its best moments of a sturdy, old-fashioned musical in the tradition of, say, Grand Hotel, and Gregor Donnelly’s almost constantly revolving set admirably captures the hustle and bustle of Beirut during this period.
I also rather think a star might have been born in Chadwick-Patel, who throws himself into the role of the romantic lead with such relish and enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be carried away, too.