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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Strangers in Paradise, put on your Baubles, Bangles and Beads, cross The Sands of Time and embrace your Fate, aka Kismet, in the excellent production of the 1953 musical by that name mounted by Reprise! Broadway's Best. Lacking nothing but sets, the production and outstanding cast under Arthur Allan Seidelman's astute direction give full value to a 50th Anniversary celebration of one of the most beautiful of musicals. We're in good hands from the very beginning as Seidelman brings the chorus on stage, one at a time, as beggars and merchants in a mythical 11th century Baghdad bazaar.

Robert Wright and George Forrest used themes from the music of 19th-century Russian composer Alexander Borodin to illustrate Edward Knoblock's 1911 romantic comedy in which Hajj, an impoverished poet who lives by his wits, and his beautiful daughter Marsinah find adventure and "delicious desire" in what Artistic Producing Director Marcia Seligman carefully points out is an Arabian Nights fantasyland. Although Len Cariou is older than Alfred Drake, who created Hajj on Broadway, and Howard Keel, who did the movie musical, his age brings out elements beyond the swashbuckling in the rascally Hajj. He's beguilingly raffish and scruffy, touchingly credible as a truly impoverished second-rate artist who jumps on the entrepreneurial opportunity to be a beggar.

A second Tony-winner in the cast, Anthony Crivello, is a dashing Caliph, whose magnificent voice floats notes with breathtaking power. Crivello also has the dramatic intuition to make the Caliph's thinly-written love for Marsinah a tender and passionate obsession. Jason Graae takes scrumptious advantage of the comic elements in the wicked Wazir. The one unfortunate number that brings harshly to mind Baghdad's recent regime is Graae's solo "Was I Wazir?" in which he depicts the tortures he enjoys inflicting. But it would be hard to eliminate a solo by Jason Graae.

Especially delectable is the chemistry between Graae and the wonderful Jennifer Leigh Warren, who plays his Wife of Wives, Lalume. Warren has a rich warm voice and knows exactly where to place every note. She never makes the mistake of playing the voluptuary with broad comedy like Mae West but delicately teases every erotic moment with wickedly playful humor.

It's always a special pleasure to discover someone and though Caryn E. Kaplan, who plays Marsinah, already has an impressive resume, she has the kind of novel talent that demonstrates what separates a leading lady from the chorus. Not only does she have a flawless and impeccably handled soprano, she has acting chops that range from humor to authority to a swooning woman-in-love. The Kaplan/Crivello love scenes are so delicately intense that, even in a show as predictable as Kismet, you find yourself holding your breath until they make it through.

Though necessarily limited by the Freud Playhouse's stage which is truncated by Gerald Sternbach's orchestra, Rob Barron's choreography makes sensuous dynamic use of the area. Special mention must be made of sinuous dancer Natalie Nucci as Princess Zubbediya.

Casting Director Bruce Newberg has assembled an ensemble of splendid voices coming from women who look superb in those harem girl costumes and men who display a splendidly buff array of gleaming pecs, all fetchingly bedecked, bangled and beaded by costume designer Helen Butler. This Kismet is a welcome oasis in the Sands of Time.

Book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, founded on a play by Edward Knoblock; Music & Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest from themes of A. Borodin
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman
Cast: Len Cariou (Hajj), Anthony Crivello (Caliph), Jason Graae (Wazir), Jennifer Leigh Warren (Lalume), Caryn E. Kaplan (Marsinah). Ensemble: David Burnham, R.F. Daley, John Ganun, Diane Vincent, James Below, James Black, David Brouwer, Teressa Byrne, Wendy Calio, Seth Hampton, Laura Hornberger, Jill Lewis, Natalie Nucci, Chris Prinzo, Brad Standley
Set Design: Evan A. Bartoletti
Lighting Design: Tom Ruzika
Costume Design: Helen Butler & Jeff Trnaski
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one intermission
Running Dates: January 10-February 1, 2004
Where: Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. Ph: (310) 825-2101
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.January 20.
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