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A CurtainUp London London Review

Itís only those who love well, whom love can hurt.
---- Omar Khayyam
Michael Ball as A Poet
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Kismet. Itís Fate isnít it! The first London revival since 1978 at the London Coliseum for the English National Opera found us there to see the choreography of Javier de Frutos who so innovatively designed the choreography for Rufus Norrisí London production of Cabaret. Within minutes of arriving we were handed a piece of paper that told us that Javier de Frutos had withdrawn from the production nine days before, due to "creative differences". In this immensely pretty theatre with the music of Borodin and the singing talent of Michael Ball and Alfie Boe what could go wrong? Like that other recent hopeful English foray into Baghdad, an awful lot!

It may be that it is too difficult these days in the current political climate to show this musical tale of ancient Arabia or more likely that it is impossible to update it without treading on someoneís burqa. There are three well known show tunes in Kismet but even three lovely tunes arenít really enough these days to float a musical. The cast and orchestra number 125 so it wasnít short of bodies but the production does feel underfinanced and distinctly lacking in Eastern promise.

Michael Ball works very hard to try to pull the show off as the central character, a penniless poet who gets mistaken as someone who has magic powers of prediction, and suitably elevated, his daughter falls in love with the Caliph of Baghdad. Along the way he is threatened with having his hand cut off and falls for the Wazirís wife of wives. Ball sings very well and is an experienced musical performer although it is his first time singing at the ENO. But even the multitalented Ball canít save this show.

Alfie Boe is very cute as the diminutive Caliph who looked as if some of the suitor princesses would eat him for supper. Boe has a lovely tenor voice and his duet "Strangers in Paradise" with Sarah Tynan as Marsinah, the poetís daughter was wildly romantic and could be out of a much better show. "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" is a jaunty popular song and "And This Is My Beloved" soars emotionally. Faith Prince with all her Broadway experience must have been regretting her decision to agree to play Lalume, the wife of wives to the Wazir.

There was a body of pale chested, red pajamaíd male dancing troupe who might have looked more authentic with the benefit of some spray tan. The chorus lines of brigands or policemen were so out of step it was like looking at one of those shows where members of the public are pulled onstage to imitate the professional act. I caught a glimpse of de Frutosí ideas when the three identical Ababuan princesses, potential brides for the Caliph, arrived in a box, legs emerging first and clad in leather jerkins, little caps and grey tights. There were certainly exotic with highly stylised movement to the accompaniment of drums. In the harem scene, the many wives of the Grand Wazir were dressed in pink turbans, floaty trousers and bodices and as they reclined, I thought I could see one of Ingresí paintings set in a Turkish Bath but with clothes on and thinner women.

Ultzís design looks more tacky than exotic; sparkly red walls have Arabic arches cut through them with glimpses of palm trees and the two lovers "Stranger in Paradise" sing in the centre of a giant wreath of roses, lemons and oranges. But it is the market scenes with women wrapped in blue sheets and men in stripy long garments with red flower pot hats which are so disappointingly lack lustre. The orchestra is magnificent but there may be good reason why Kismet has not been fully staged in London since 1978.

Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest from themes of Alexander Borodin
Book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis founded on a play by Edward Knoblock
Directed by Gary Griffin

Starring: Michael Ball, Sarah Tynan, Alfie Boe, Faith Prince, Donald Maxwell, Julian Curry, Graeme Danby, Dwayne Jones, Rodney Clarke
With: Edward Anderson, Nicholas Cass-Beggs, Paul Chantry, Roland Cox, Nil Flemming-Brown, Ryan Jenkins, Franklyn Lee, EJ Boyle, Josephine Darvill-Mills, Sophia Hurdley, Marie-Louise Molbach, Simone Sault, Clemmie Sveaas, Nicola Wade
Conductor: Richard Hickox, Simon Lee
Design: Ultz
Lighting: Wolfgang GŲbbel
Musical Staging: Nikki Woollaston
Additional dialogue by Kit Hesketh-Harvey
Sound: Nick Lidster
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 145 0200
Booking to 14th July 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th June 2007 performance at the London Coliseum, St Martinís Lane, London WC2 (Tube: Leicester Square )
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©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
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