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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! Does Kismet

Take my hand
I'm a stranger in paradise
--- line from "Stranger In Paradise" from Kismet's most stick-to-the-ears showstopper.

Mazzie is a sassy, sexy and playful Lalume and is anything but boring when she sings "Bored." Mitchell's relaxed charm and the incredible baritone, which is wonderful even when he speaks, would give us a worthy leading man for any musical with plush melodies, like Robert Wright and George Forrest's Alexander Borodin based songs. But while Mitchell has forged a successful career that extends to cabaret, it takes the full-scale revivals like the 2002 Man of LaMancha (in which Mitchell took on the role of the original Kismet's romantic lead, Richard Kiley, and Mazzie stepped in after the original female lead left) to showcase his voice. That's why the annual invaluable Encores! concert revivals once again deserve a rousing cheer for bringing back a show ideally suited to Mazzie and Mitchell.

Sure, it's pure kitsch, and this Encores! variation would be more of a Wow! if it had emphasized the music and ditched more of the book, a vaudevillian variation of Arabian Nights. And while the staging is more lavish than some past Encores! presentation, the colorful Baghdad bazaar costumes enhanced with John Lee Beatty's floating curtains don't quite hide some of the shortcomings.

While the melodies are indeed ear candy, this Kismet doesn't strike me as fated to be another Broadway transfer like Chicago or Wonderful Town. Sergio Trujillo 's extensive choreography tends to be repetitious, its chief highlights being Elizabeth Parkinson (one of the stars of Movin' Out) who makes the most of her role as genie who serves as a dancing scene shifter; also the stylized dances of the three princesses of Ababu (Liz Bugarin, Michelle Camaya, Sumie Maeda).

Undoubtedly the audiences who kept Kismet running for 583 performances a half a century ago didn't find ironic timeliness in discussions about Baghdad and songs like "Was I Wazir?" in which the ruling honcho sings about his favorite torturing practices and "Not Since Nineveh" with its references to ever gaudier palaces. But it's the music, not the unintended currency of some of these references that sent the audience out of the 2800-seat packed house humming "Stranger in Paradise" and exclaiming "Wonderful.". That super hit could have been even more enjoyable if Danny Gurwin were as charismatic and velvet-voiced a Caliph as the excellent Marcy Harriell's Marsinah deserved.

Hearing this opulent score played by a 41-piece band positioned center stage so that it sounds great whether you sit in the orchestra, the grand tier or way up in the balcony, is, of course, a thrill in itself. If you missed getting a ticket forKismet, there are two more Encore! concerts scheduled: A Kander and Ebb rarity, 70 Girls 70, from March 30 to April 2, and the all too timely political chicanery Gershwin musical, Of Thee I Sing, from May 11 to 14.

Kismet was also deemed concert revival worthy by Reprise!, the Los Angeles equivalent of Encores! For a review of that production go here.
Encores!: Kismet
Book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis (based on a play by Edward Knoblock).
Music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest (from themes of Alexander Borodin).
Directed by Lonny Price
Music Director: Paul Gemignani
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Cast: Brian Stokes Mitchell (A Public Poet, sometimes called Hajj), Marin Mazzie (Lalume), Marcy Harriell (Marsinah), Danny Gurwin (the Caliph), Randall Duk Kim (Omar Khayyam), Danny Rutigliano (The Wazir of Police), Michael X. Martin (Chief Policeman) and Tom Aldredge (Jawan).
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Consultant: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Concert Adaptation: David Ives
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Original Orchestrations: Arthur Kay
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, including one intermission
Presented by NY City Center Encores!, New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, (212) 581-1212.
February 9 & 10, at 8pm, Feb. 11 2 & 8pm, Feb. 12 at 6:30 pm.
Tickets: $90 to $25

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/10/06 performance
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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