Rumi: The Musical
Jess Pether | 25 Nov 2021 00:48am
Image: Jane Hobson
Rumi: The Musical began life as a concept recording. Its creators, Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman, began their journey towards the end of 2019, with the final album being released in June 2021, so this truly was a pandemic project.
Showing for two nights only at the London Coliseum for its world premiere, the musical depicts a snapshot of the life of 13th Century Turkish mystic, philosopher and poet Rumi. In 1244, Rumi meets the enigmatic Shams-i-Tabrizi, and their deep connection and friendship changes everything, not only for the men themselves but also for Rumi’s family.
Even today, Rumi’s teachings and ideologies are popular across the world, so it’s surprising that a musical hasn’t been written about him before.
The production feels somewhat swallowed up on the huge stage of the Coliseum, with its small cast and minimal set. However, I liked the relative simplicity of it all, allowing the audience space to concentrate on the story and music. I was instantly reminded of Children of Eden and Godspell, not only because of the show’s religious context but because of the measured and philosophical dialogue that takes place between songs.
This isn’t a fast-paced musical; it’s ballad-heavy, and on first listen, not all the songs have a strong hook. But the cast, led by seasoned West End performer Ramin Karimloo (Shams) and Naaman himself (Rumi), deliver strong and powerful performances. A particular standout is duet Somewhere in act two, sung by Rumi’s wife Kara (Soophia Foroughi) and stepdaughter Kimya (Casey Al-Shaqsy).
Rumi: The Musical is very much about fusion. The show is interspersed with sections of dance, a mix of contemporary and Middle Eastern, and the music deftly intertwines Persian and Middle Eastern sounds with more traditional musical theatre fare. I did find myself wishing the volume could be turned up a few notches, as the sound overall was missing that extra bit of punch, but the score has intrigued me enough to want a second listen. It was also wonderful to hear that traditional Middle Eastern instruments formed part of the orchestra.
Rumi: The Musical has a way to go before it reaches the dizzying heights of other West End debuts, but this mystical musical was a pleasant and sometimes powerful journey through the life of a man who still inspires millions today.