Kismet - Spreckels Theater Company
"Carmen Mitchell glows as the lovely kind-hearted Marsinah, her sweet tones mingling well in duets with Jacob Bronson’s Caliph. The lovers are convincing in their immediate infatuation, creating beautiful music together."
Kismet the play premiered in 1911, running for two years in London. The Broadway musical version was popular in the early 1950s, especially the songStranger in Paradise, which is well known to this day. The original playwright, Edward Knoblock, led an exciting life, serving in the British Secret Service during WWI shortly after penning Kismet. He was born Knoblauch, but anti-German sentiment in the early 1900s caused him to alter it in 1916. Kismet is heavily influenced by ancient fairy tales of the sort found in Andrew Lang’s books, where a trickster uses deception to make his way through life, unexpectedly becoming successful.
Spreckels’ production has Bollywood sparkling colors filled with sprightly dancing and an enthusiastic cast, but is hindered by ill-fitting costumes and politically charged themes. What was acceptable when Georges Prosper Remi created Middle Eastern illustrations for TinTin filled with black robed fanatics and bumbling officials in bazaars is difficult to swallow for modern audiences considering the current situation in that part of the world. It can be done with careful taste, such as American Ballet Theatre’s Le Corsaire, but the line between farce and insensitivity is narrow, andKismet may have crossed it. Depiction of women is also concerning in the musical. They are perpetually seen as objects to conquer, and strong active women such as the Ababu Princesses are sneered at. Humor often involves making fun of people, but watching an entire musical denigrating women can become tiresome and is not amusing. What was appropriate in 1911 before women had the vote is not necessarily acceptable in 2016.
Tim Setzer as Hajj is a powerhouse, inhabiting a dashing middle aged poet with fervor. He oils his way across the stage, convincing or entrancing everyone he meets with dynamic songs. His patron and arch nemesis, the Wazir (Harry Duke), is operatic in his villainous machinations. Carmen Mitchell glows as the lovely kind-hearted Marsinah, her sweet tones mingling well in duets with Jacob Bronson’s Caliph. The lovers are convincing in their immediate infatuation, creating beautiful music together. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade woven into the music was a treat thanks to the in concert orchestra conducted by Diego Garcia.
There are fun moments in Kismet, despite the underlying themes, such as the beggars’ antics and witty one-liners throughout the play. Kismet is old-fashioned glitzy entertainment representative of early musicals, and contains a charming love story. While production values could be improved upon, Spreckels puts on a good show.