You won’t find many musicals that open with a rousing invitation to ‘contemplate your lives in silence.’ But this is a show about the thirteenth century poet and philosopher, Rumi and come to think of it, contemplating our lives in silence is exactly what we go to the theatre to do anyway. It feels timely. post-pandemic restrictions to be at a musical that invites personal reflection and thrilling to witness a full-scale orchestra and huge ensemble of dancers bringing the Coliseum to life.

Rumi was born in 1207 in present day Afghanistan and has been widely quoted since the 1970’s when his uplifting words about finding strength within were translated from the Persian. Famous lines like ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you’ are a feast for Lebanese- British writer actor, Nadim Naaman. Collaborating with Qatari composer Dana Al Fardan, the twenty original songs have Rumi inspired lyrics, passionate ballads and rousing chorus numbers.

Al Fardan and Naaman set out to reveal the man from the myth and they certainly do that. Rumi (played by Nadim Namaan) was thirty six, married with two sons and a step-daughter when he met wandering mystic Shams of Tabriz. Forsaking his duties as husband, father and leader of the religious community, he fell into deep, obsessive contemplation with his new mentor. In fact Rumi doesn’t come off all that well against his co-star and outsider Shams who steals the show with a compelling performance from Ramin Karimloo. For a contemporary audience it’s not easy to accept the quest for spiritual enlightenment at the expense of the lives of those we love. It’s hard not to judge Rumi when he forces his step-daughter Kimya (played by Casey Al-Shaqsy) to marry Shams with tragic consequences.

Despite more than a hint of Les Miserables and a touch of Jesus Christ Superstar, Rumi The Musical is very much an original, carving out it’s own space in the world of musical theatre.
The Whirling Dirvish inspired dancing is magical, with choreography from Anjali Mehra and the orchestration has a tantalising richness where East meets West. The female roles which initially seem idealised, eventually deepen and it’s a complex and satisfying storyline that leaves you thinking about what has changed since Rumi’s time and what has remained the same.

This staged concert performance had the audience on their feet, a resounding yes for this new musical heading off on a tour of the middle East. There was so much to applaud, the richness of the score, glorious dancing, outstanding performances and a show for both the heart and mind. I for one, hope it returns to London in a fully realised production.