Kismet: Girls! Gags! Tunes!
If you only know Kismet from its original cast recording, or simply for the fact that it's the musical that introduced lovely songs like "Stranger in Paradise", "And This Is My Beloved" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads", you may be surprised to find out what this musical of legendary Arabian nights really is. Though its reputation emphasizes the operetta-style score, sung gloriously by Alfred Drake in the original 1953 production, and the sensual choreography created by Jack Cole, adding the book makes it clear that Kismet is more of a tired businessman show gleefully passing itself off as high art. Girls! Gags! Tunes!
This is not a bad thing, of course. There's a lot of terrific stuff in Kismet, even if it doesn't all blend together comfortably. Unfortunately, in these days when most seats at a typical Broadway performance are priced at $100+, most customers desire to see something a bit more elaborate or artistic than burlesque disguised as culture. What a shame.
Like a Coney Island sideshow, Kismet delivers the culture of an exotic land peppered with enough sex and humor to keep the audience from wondering what's going on across the boardwalk. There are even a few Omar Kayyam jokes tossed in just to make it feel authentic.
Indeed, the Encores concert reading of Kismet, directed by Lonny Price, is loaded with funny tough guys, hot belly dancers, a midriff-bearing ingénue, and lots of good ol' American sexual innuendo supplied by a sexy sasstress poured gloriously into a cleavage revealing outfit and a roguish leading man who gets the babe in the end.
The plot? Oh, please. It wasn't exactly significant in 1953 and with David Ives' concert adaptation the original book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis has been pared down to jokes and song cues. All you have to know is that Brian Stokes Mitchell is a poet slash beggar and that Marin Mazzie, who is stuck in a lousy marriage to the crooked Wazir (Danny Rutigliano), gets hot for Stokes while the Caliph (Danny Gurwin) falls in love at first sight with Marcy Harriell, daughter of said Stokes.
This is all done to the Russian melodies of Alexander Borodin adapted into songs by Robert Wright and Charles Forrest (the 1953 version of a jukebox musical) with Encores' new Music Director Paul Gemignani serving up Arthur Kay's orchestrations that mix show-biz oomph with classical lushness while somehow making the whole thing sound somewhat Arabian.
The two stars are obviously having a blast. Brian Stokes Mitchell is lovably cocky and in fine voice, as is Marin Mazzie who dominates every moment she's on stage, skillfully zinging her character's multitude of suggestive quips. As the Wazir, Danny Rutigliano is so delightfully impish it's hard to think of him as a villain.
Friday night's audience gave Danny Gurwin a loud, enthusiastic ovation for his light tenor presentation of "Stranger in Paradise." Marcy Harriell, who woke up Friday morning with a viral infection, was also warmly received, singing in a light soprano that was a 180 degree turn from the show-stopping bluesy growl she displayed in Lennon.
Sergio Trujillo's semi-Oriental choreography is kitschy and sexy, especially when performed by Elizabeth Parkinson and Rachelle Rak. Reliable character men Tom Aldredge, Randall Duk Kim and Michael X Martin all shine in their small roles.
Kismet is not likely to be revived in full any time soon. As a whole it certainly doesn't deliver the kind of evening expected by contemporary audiences. But it does provide opportunities for showy performances and some lighthearted fun, recalling the days when a Broadway musical wasn't required to be an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime event.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell