Review: Rumi the Musical (London Coliseum)

The poet and mystic Jalāl ad-Din Mohammad Rūmī, popularly known as Rumi, may seem a curious choice for an epic musical, but co-creators Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman (who also plays the leading character) have met the challenge head on with their new show.

Playing to an enthusiastic audience last night in the first of a two-performance limited run, Rumi the Musical may be semi-staged and at the start of its journey, but it boasts lush melodies, eye-catching choreography (by Anjali Mehra), and a strong message of inspiration.

Rumi (Naaman) is well-regarded in his town, where residents follow his thoughts and teaching. At home, his wife Kara (Soophia Foroughi) and children Sultan Valed (Yazdan Qafouri), Aladdin (Ahmed Hamad) and Kimya (an eye-catching performance from Casey Al-Shaqsy) live in relative harmony, although a love story is brewing which will eventually lead to tragedy.

Production photograph for Rumi the Musical

Into this world comes Shams Tabrizi, ‘the wanderer’ (Ramin Karimloo), who both tests and pushes the boundaries of faith and friendship. At times the show seems almost his story as much as Rumi’s – their friendship has echoes of traditional Biblical pairings such as David and Jonathan. I would like to understand how their friendship led to Rumi’s transformation from disciple to influencer, but we didn’t quite reach that point.

Epic themes thread the book and lyrics of this musical, delivered in a range of styles inspired from the Middle East to contemporary pop. The effect never jars, and the use of choral and duet motifs strengthens the characters and their stories. The thirty piece orchestra work hard throughout.strives to

As a musical still in its early days, Rumi the Musical strives to provide the emotional heft and thoughtful writing to befit its subject matter. There might be a dud lyric here and there, but in the main the songs have strength and energy. The set suggests many locations through utilisation of a suspended disc illuminated to suggest a garden, a market, or a walk in the moonlight.

The fate of women in this world may raise questions, but this town is inevitably one of learned men who are judged by their connections and possessions. Both Kara and Kimya are characters who are given their own unique voices, whatever rules and convention govern their lives.

Ramin Karimloo in rehearsal for Rumi the Musical

If the staging sometimes suggests moments relating to Judas or Julius Caesar, whether conscious or not, we have points of connection which are interesting and pertinent. Rumi is initially ruled by money and then by honour, but his legacy is not fixed to either.

The creators of Rumi the Musical previously worked together on Broken Wings, a creative and complex musical which is revived at the Charing Cross Theatre next year. Rumi’s tale may be more poetic and ambitious, but both are enjoyable pieces of work in their own right.

Rumi the Musical, directed by Bronagh Lagan, had a limited run at the London Coliseum on 22-23 November 2021. For more information on the piece, and its concept album, visit the show’s Twitter page.

Images: Jane Hobson (production), Bonnie Britain (rehearsal)

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