The ENO has a Ball with Kismet

July 14
5:14 AM 2007

Gary Griffin - fresh from the success of his recent Broadway production, "The Color Purple" - has returned to London (where his Donmar Warehouse production of Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" won him a richly deserved Olivier Award in 2003) to present a revival of the 1950s musical, "Kismet" at the London Coliseum for the ENO. The show, originally staged at the Ziegfield theatre in New York in 1953, has music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from musical themes by Borodin. The original book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis has been reworked by Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Griffin's colourful, energetic and beautifully paced production, magnificently complemented by the set design by Ultz and Wolfgang Gobbel's lighting design, breathes new life into a classic.  

The plot of the show tells the story of the poet, Hajj, who rises from begging in the streets of Baghdad to the position of Emir. Meanwhile, the Wazir (chief of police) desperately tries to find a wealthy foreign princess for the young Caliph to marry - but this plan hits a snag when the Caliph falls in love with Hajj's beautiful daughter, Marsinah, without the poet's knowledge. After a series of misadventures, Hajj - aided primarily by the hand of fate or "kismet" - enables the Caliph and Marsinah to turn their love into an unlikely marriage while the fortunate poet is rewarded by gaining the affections of the Wazir's sexy widow, Lalume.  

The original Broadway cast was led by Alfred Drake (Hajj), Doretta Morrow (Marsinah), Richard Kiley (the Caliph) and Joan Diener (Lalume) in roles that were recreated for the silver screen two years later by Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Vic Damone and Dolores Gray. This most recent reincarnation features Michael Ball (best known for leading roles in "Les Miserables", "Aspects of Love", "Passion" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"), Sarah Tynan (young Welsh National Opera and ENO diva), Alfie Boe (Lancashire born rising operatic tenor) and Broadway's Tony Award winner, Faith Prince ("Guys and Dolls", "Falsettos", "Bells Are Ringing").  

Golden voiced Sarah Tynan and Alfie Boe thrill the audience with their vocals in songs such as "Baubles, Bangles and Beads", "Stranger In Paradise" and "And This Is My Beloved" - while a suitably sultry Faith Prince belts her way admirably through "Not Since Ninevah" and delivers her comic one-liners with aplomb. ENO veteran Donald Maxwell is excellent at Omar Khayyam, Graham Danby delivers a fine comic performance as the Wazir and the entire ensemble give more than adequate support throughout. But the night belongs to Michael Ball. As always the thrilling, rich tone of his voice resonates through every song, especially the beautifully poignant "Sands Of Time". But, more than that, his comic timing with both dialogue and song lyric is impeccable and he embodies the role of the poet, Hajj, with wit and sensual charm in what is a bona fide star performance.  

With its great score, witty book, excellent performances and Gary Griffin's expertly crafted staging, the ENO "Kismet" is an absolute delight.    

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