RUMI – the musical, 2 Stars

RUMI the musical
London Coliseum
23rd to 24th Nov 2021

“Based on a story about the 13th century philosopher and poet Rumi by Evren Sharma, ‘Rumi: The Musical follows Al Fardan and Naaman’s 2018 debut musical, ‘Broken Wings’, which premiered in the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket before touring the Middle East.
The cast features Ramin Karimloo, Nadim Naaman, Casey Al-Shaqsy, Soophia Foroughi, Ahmed Hamad, Yazdan Qafouri, Johan Munir and Benjamin Armstrong, with an ensemble featuring Roshani Abbey, Amira Al Shanti, Eva-Theresa Chokarian, Maëva Feitelson, Sasha Ghoshal, Blythe Jandoo, Ediz Mahmut, Zara Naeem, Mark Samaras and Aliza Vakil.
The 18-strong London Coliseum cast is comprised entirely of performers of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian heritage, and will also feature a 29-piece orchestra, conducted by the show’s Orchestrator and Arranger Joe Davison. Vocal Arrangements are by Nikki Davison.
‘Rumi: The Musical’ features a grand score which combines Middle Eastern authenticity with classical influences and contemporary musical theatre, with lyrics derived from Rumi’s poetry. It will premiere as a semi-staged concert on November 23 & 24. The live premiere follows the release of a full-length concept album on Broadway Records.”

Review by Richard Lambert, 2 Stars

A wanderer is looking for his muse while travelling around the Middle East, from Damascus to Bagdad. RUMI the musical is based on true stories of the life of Rumi, a famous poet from the 13th century.

I’ve now seen a “semi-staged” concert. Despite this titled a “Musical”, it isn’t even a concert, it’s a “semi-staged concert”. Sadly, this means it’s lacking in a lot of what you might expect, especially here in a very large production at the London Coliseum, which is the largest West End Stage.

The orchestra are large and glorious, taking up the rear section of the stage. It’s the Qatari Philarmonic Orchestra. Qatar do seem to be ramping up their PR in the run-up to the World Cup next year. You see Qatar adverts everywhere now in London. Then there are 3 large arch set pieces removing about another third of the remaining performance space on the right hand side. Upstage is a table on wheels supporting a tatty looking fountain which has a couple of appearances mid-stage but mostly remains a visual intrusion throughout the rest of the show just parked upstage. Adding to this are 2 x sets of 4-step treads made of steel tube and topped with ribbed rubber. With this show supposedly set in 13th Century Turkey the treads are particularly out of place.

The orchestrations are glorious and sound magnificent. The singing from the cast just wonderful. Everyone loves a ballad, however here the ballads are relentless. Between each song the cast come on and shift the steps around a bit, they also carry a persian rug, deliver or collect chairs, and generally provide staging that’s unnecessarily awkward. Every single time. Wait for the number to finish and then you know the cast will enter to do more business. They even pretend to clean the treads during one number just so they’re standing by in place to move them again on the downbeat of the chorus. It’s all so predictable and becomes irritating.

The choreography is quite Contemporary rather than Middle-Eastern. Performed well by some of the company but not so much technique from others. It’s all very static and matches the blocking which just feels unimaginative.

There is also a video projector shining brightly across the audience like a lighthouse beacon. The images projected are circular – examples are the moon, a harvest moon, a rug, a period scripture tablet, and a mosaic tile. I enjoyed this imagery for about 5 minutes but found it visually tiring as the show continued.

It’s a long 2 hours and 30 minutes, however the classical lighting, with concert accents, raise the bar. The Sound Balance is also very good – there wasn’t a moment when I couldn’t see or hear the cast.

Despite the strong cast this musical does have a tendency to feel like an RE class from your schooldays as you wait patiently for the bell.

Photo Credit Jane Hobson

Further information:

Produced by Ali Matar, ‘Rumi: The Musical’ is Directed by Bronagh Lagan and Choreographed by Anjali Mehra, with Musical Direction and Supervision by Joe and Nikki Davison and Middle Eastern Musical Supervision by Maias Alyamani. Set and
Costume Design is by Gregor Donnelly, with Lighting Design by Nic Farman, Sound Design by Simon Hendry and Video Design by Matt Powell. Further Creatives include Aran Cherkez as Assistant Director, Natalie Pound as Assistant Musical Director and Mark Samaras as Assistant Choreographer.

Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian poet, Hanafi faqih, Islamic scholar, Maturidi theologian, and Sufi mystic originally from Greater Khorasan in Greater Iran, Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet” in the United States.

Dana Al Fardan is a Qatari Composer, Songwriter and Symphonic Artist. Drawing on her rich cultural heritage and
influenced by her love of world music, her work is a blend of Arabic influenced contemporary Classical, both epic in scale and universally accessible. Dana is Brand Ambassador of the internationally renowned Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom she recorded ‘Layla’ and ‘Sandstorm’, her first two albums. ‘Sandstorm’ has since been played by The London
Metropolitan Orchestra at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London, bringing Qatari music to a UK audience for the first time. In Musical Theatre, Dana co-composed ‘Broken Wings’ with Nadim Naaman; an adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s debut novel. ‘Broken Wings’ premiered in the West End in 2018 at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and has since toured The Middle East (Beiteddine Arts Festival, Katara Opera House and Dubai Opera House), achieving sell-out runs and critical acclaim. In October 2019, Dana’s repertoire was performed at The United Nations to mark the annual UN Day and celebrate the UN’s 74th anniversary, featuring the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. The programme was Conducted by Eimeer Noon, who went on to conduct The Oscars that same year. Currently, Dana is also working on her score for feature film ‘Orca’ and her fourth album ‘INDIGO’.

Lebanese-British actor, singer and writer Nadim Naaman trained in musical theatre at The Royal Academy of Music, where he has since been appointed an Associate. Nadim is the Book Writer and Co-Composer of critically acclaimed Kahlil Gibran
musical ‘Broken Wings’, written with Dana Al Fardan. ‘Broken Wings’ premiered in The West End in 2018 (Theatre Royal
Haymarket) and has since toured The Middle East (Beiteddine Arts Festival, Katara Opera House and Dubai Opera House).
Recent acting credits include: Freddy Eynsford-Hill in ‘My Fair Lady’ (The Grange and Liceu Opera Barcelona), Count
Carl-Magnus in ‘A Little Night Music’ (Holland Park Opera), Raoul in ‘The Phantom of The Opera’ (West End, Athens and Thessaloniki) and Gibran in ‘Broken Wings’ (West End and Middle Eastern Tour). Other notable credits include: ‘On The Town’ (Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms), ‘Sweeney Todd’ (Tooting Arts Club and West End), ‘One Man Two Guvnors’ (Theatre Royal
Haymarket), and ‘The Sound of Music’ (Palladium). As a Concert Soloist, Nadim has collaborated with Orchestras and venues such as The Hong Kong Philharmonic, Birmingham Symphony, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, RTE Concert Orchestra Dublin, Liverpool Philharmonic, The John Wilson Orchestra, London Symphony and BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall. Nadim’s 2016 studio album, ‘Sides’, topped the iTunes UK Vocal Chart, and is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Recently, Bronagh has Directed the acclaimed West End premiere of Cruise (Duchess Theatre), Rags (Park Theatre) and Umm Khulthum (London Palladium); 34 musical (Lowry Theatre). Other credits include Broken Wings (Theatre Royal Haymarket and Middle Eastern Tour); Putting It Together; Rags & Little Women (Hope Mill, Manchester); Children Of Eden (Mackintosh Theatre); A Christmas Carol (Ivy Studios); Girlfriends, in concert (Bishopsgate Institute); A Winter’s Tale (Rose Theatre, Kingston) The Adventures of Pinnochio (Ambassadors Theatre); Brexit – The Musical (Edinburgh); tick, tick BOOM! (Park Theatre), Promises, Promises (Southwark Playhouse); As You Like It (Jacksons Lane); The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Chipping Norton); The Pajama Game and A Man of No Importance (both for The Pleasance); Heart of Winter and The Stationmaster (both for Tristan Bates); James and The Giant Peach (No.1 UK & World Tour); Rags (Lyric Theatre); A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (Greenwich Theatre); Expectations (Arcola); Blood Wedding (Courtyard Theatre); Henry VI Part 1 (Rose Theatre); Erris (Theatre 503), Julius Caesar (The Scoop) and The Madness of Sweeney (Lyric Theatre, Belfast).
Associate Director credits include: Contact (Various London, outdoor locations); Pippin (Southwark Playhouse), Becoming Shades (The Vaults, Waterloo) and The History Boys (No.1 UK Tour).
Upcoming Productions: Rise and fall of Little Voice, (Uk Tour)

ANJALI MEHRA – Choreographer
Anjali Mehra has worked as a Performer and Choreographer/Movement Director for over 20 years. She joined Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Dance company in 1999, after graduating from Central School of Ballet. Her work as a Choreographer/Movement Director has spanned most genres in the arts giving her a unique insight to what is required in each different moment. Recent Choreography/Movement Direction credits include: As You Like It (The Watermill); A Soldier’s Tale (Royal College of Music and Central School of Ballet); Gondoliers (Scottish Opera); Daddy (Almeida Theatre); Queen of Spades (Lyric Opera Chicago) and God Only Knows (Tate Modern). As a Dancer, Anjali has performed as a Principal for over two decades, including Glenda in Play without Words, Irina in The Red Shoes, The Queen and Girlfriend in Swan Lake, The Stepmother in Cinderella, and Sugar in Nutcracker. Anjali has also worked and danced for Wayne McGregor, Arthur Pita, Nick Winston, Cathy Marston, Imogen Knight, Alex Reynolds, Anthony Van Last, Andrew George, Linda Dobell and Lucy Burge in Musical Theatre, Opera, contemporary and commercial dance; most notably, Kiss me Kate (Theatre du Chatelet), the original cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams and in films World War Z and Alexander.

Rumi: The Musical – Original Concept Album
Music & Lyrics by Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman
Book by Nadim Naaman
Based on a Story by Evren Sharma
Orchestrations and Arrangements by Joe Davison
Vocal Arrangements by Nikki Davison
Middle Eastern Musical Supervision by Maias Alyamani
Original Concept Album produced, edited and mixed by Joe and Nikki Davison for Auburn Jam Music
Recorded at Katara Studios, Auburn Jam Music and Master Chord Studio
Featuring The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra
Oud by Aref Gumman
Kanun by Taufic Mirkhan
Naye by Yassine Auari
Rababa by Hassan Moatas
Arabic Percussion by George Oro
Piano, Bass and Additional Programming by Joe Davison
Guitars and Mandolin by Tom Fleming
Harp by Olivia Jageurs

Husband and wife team Joe and Nikki have taken various new musicals through the process of arranging, orchestrating, recording & producing concept albums, then on to the stage as MDs and supervisors. These include Rumi The Musical, Public Domain (Forristal & Clarke, Vaudeville Theatre) 34 (Drew Dillon, Lowry Theatre), Millennials (Elliot Clay, Turbine Theatre), and Broken Wings (Theatre Royal Haymarket, Beiteddine Festival, Katara Opera House, Dubai Opera House). They have MD’d and written arrangements for concerts at The Royal Albert Hall, the O2 Arena, and Kerry Ellis Tonight At The London Coliseum, and have recorded and toured internationally with the likes of Bear’s Den, Frank Turner and Arkells. As music producers, they have created albums with West End stars including Kerry Ellis, Janie Dee and Alice Fearn, artists such as Rebecca Levy, Felix Hagan & The Family and Caroline Kay, and musical theatre cast recordings including Rags OLC (Stephen Schwartz & Charles Miller) Queen Of The Mist (Michael John LaChiusa), The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Webborn & Finn). Their own composition work for TV, Film & Commercials includes Paw Patrol (Nickelodeon), I’m Open To That (Samsung), Brighter Days (performed by Denise Van Outen for BelVita), Hey You What If (CBBC), Delete Delete Delete (BBC Ireland), The Girl Who Built A Rocket (Water Aid), and assisting Nick Lloyd Webber on Love, Lies and Records (BBC).

MAIAS ALYAMANI – Middle Eastern Musical Supervision
Maias is a Violinist, Composer and Producer. He is considered one of the foremost Arab artists of today. He graduated from The Higher Institute of Music in Damascus in before completing his Master’s at The Vienna University of Music. He is a frequent lecturer of Arabic Music across Europe. As a Soloist, Maias has performed with leading musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Gidon Kremer, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Zawinul and Fairuz. His numerous appearances with Orchestras across Europe include: Vienna Symphony, Kremerata Baltica, RSO Vienna, Orchestra Royal de Chamber de Wallonie, Berlin Philharmonie, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.As a Composer, Maias’
recent commissions include the inauguration of Damascus Opera House, the opening ceremony of The Arab Olympic Games, boarding music for Qatar Airways, the opening ceremony of Lusail Stadium, Doha and the 2022 World Cup Launch. He has built a large following popularising Classical Music in The Arab World, with over 20 recordings to his name.