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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the London Coliseum

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Michael Ball

The good news about the English National Opera's revival at the Coliseum of the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet,is that the truly majesterial score fashioned by Robert Wright and George Forrest after themes by Alexander Borodin, has seldom sounded as lush or full-bodied. In these economy-conscious days, hearing a 65-piece orchestra, under the baton of an eminent conductor (Richard Hickox), is a rare, almost unique, treat indeed.

Not only that, but the singing talent on offer-Michael Ball as the poet Hajj, Alfie Boe as the Caliph of Baghdad, Faith Prince as Lalume and Sarah Tynan as Hajj's daughter Marsinah-is first class.

The bad news is that unlike, The Lord of the Rings(which recently opened at the Drury Lane), the physical production, is, frankly, hideous. A real eye-sore.

This Arabian-nights story, originally written in 1912 by Edward Knoblock and performed on both sides of the Atlantic with a great deal of success, needs more baubles, bangles and beads, so to speak, than the ENO and designer Ultz have provided.

Instead of the evocative minarets, domes and spires traditionally associated with the Middle East of myth and imagination, what we get are unattractive slabs of red cut-out backdrops with a few accommodating acting areas against which the convoluted story is drearily played out.

There's a marked absence of flesh among the slave girls and harem lovelies, which wouldn't be that remarkable were the costumes a knockout.

But they're not and the result is a lack-lustre, ponderously directed(by Gary Griffin) operetta saved only from terminal tedium by Borodin's stunning melodies.

Nor does the fact that the show's choreographer was replaced a week before the opening night help matters. The resulting "musical staging" by Nikki Woollaston is feeble to the point of embarrassment.

Given that the situation in Irag today understandably asks the question whether Kismet should have been revived at all, once the decision was taken to do so, the production should have gone all out to recreate the fantasy world of Scheherazade in all its opulence and glory. Surely if any company could be relied on to do this, it's the ENO.

Otherwise, with this splendid cast and orchestra- why not simply perform it as a concert version? That would have been far more enjoyable than this sorry mess masquerading as a hit Broadway musical.




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