'Kismet' lacking pizzazz despite strong voices
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Exotic location, lush melodies, good principal singers — and an Act 1 that is a real snooze. What happened to the first half of "Kismet?"
The 1953 musical by Robert Wright and George Forrest seems to have all the right ingredients. Set in colorful Baghdad with an "Arabian Nights" look, the show lifts and adapts music by Russian composer Alexander Borodin for a rich, melodic score.
The plot features thwarted lovers, clever tricks, a dastardly villain and scantily-clad dancing girls. So why does it move like a lead balloon?
It could be that the two best Act 1 songs — "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" and "Stranger in Paradise" are too slow in coming and end too soon. It could be that the plot spends too much time creating complications that don't really get cracking until after intermission.
But it's probably because director Coco Wiel assembled a good cast of principal singers but couldn't find the switch to connect enough electrical current to energize them.
Buz Tennent leads off with an operatic baritone and plenty of character animation as Hajj the Poet, an instinctive con man who parlays a run of good luck into social advancement, riches and romance with another man's wife.
Next comes Shawna Masuda, parlaying her role as Marsinah, Hajj's daughter, into a triple crown following her leads in "Beauty and the Beast" and "Miss Saigon." Hearing Masuda's voice on any of the Borodin melodies is alone worth the price of a ticket.
Thomas Johnson as the Caliph comes in at a fairly effective third place with a tenor that is consistent if not terribly strong. His singing blends well enough with Masuda's that we can almost overlook his turban and baggy costume that have him looking like Ma Kettle bundled up after a shower.
The fourth voice is Jay Flores as the evil police chief Wazir, who loses points to overacting, but sings well enough to hold up his corner of the show's quartet.
When these four pitch in on "And This Is My Beloved," we get a glimpse of the wonder and beauty that is possible in "Kismet," but only occasionally realized in this production.
Overall, the staging is too literal and lacking in animation. The chorus does best on the celebratory "Night of Nights," but otherwise lacks punch in singing and dancing. Notable exceptions are the solo belly dances by Angie Matsumura and Yoko Honda, who clearly received extra hours of coaching from choreographer Willow Chang.
Musical director Mark Minasian keeps good control of his large orchestra, and Jim Hesse and JanDee Abraham project interesting characterizations as Omar Khayyam and Lalume, the Wazir's wife.
But even when "Kismet" starts coming together in Act 2, it continues to play as separate scenes without a strong connection or clear overall purpose. Unfortunately, even the best music fails to keep the show sufficiently pumped up.