Kismet is a musical, with music and lyrics written in 1953 by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin, and produced by Charles Lederer, who in 1954, won three Tony Awards for it. The musical was adapted from the book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, based on the play by Edward
Directed by Albert Marre, it premiered on December 3, 1953 at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York in the midst of a newspaper strike, and despite the lack of reviews was a hit, running for 583 performances. The original production starred Alfred Drake as the poet Hajj, Doretta Morrow as his daughter Marsinah, Richard Kiley as the young Caliph of Baghdad, and Joan Diener as the vampy wife of the evil Wazir. The show was even more successful in London's West End, enjoying a 648-show run at the Stoll Theatre. Columbia Masterworks Records recorded the original Broadway cast in late 1953; the recording was later reissued on CD by Masterworks Broadway Records.
The musical Kismet was made into a Cinemascope film in 1955 by MGM, starring Howard Keel as Hajj, Ann Blyth as Marsinah, Dolores Gray as the Wazir's wife, and Vic Damone as the Caliph. A studio cast recording was made in 1991 starring Samuel Ramey. With some minor alterations, it was restaged as Timbuktu! in 1978.
The musical is being restaged in June & July 2007 by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum and is starring West End musical legend Michael Ball (singer) and Alfie Boe (singer).
Kismet takes place in the city of Baghdad in the times of The Arabian Nights.
After the Overture, the curtain rises on a Mosque. The Imam of the Mosque appears, looks to the skies and sings of The Sands of Time as the sun rises and the Muezzins begin to chant. Three beggars sitting outside the temple begin their day's begging. They discuss the absence of the fourth of their number, Hajj, who has gone to Mecca. Then, with a cry of "Rhymes! Fine Rhymes!", a poet enters and tries to sell his verses to crowd and beggars alike. His beautiful daughter Marsinah joins in the sales pitch, but they have no success (Rhymes Have I). Marsinah is sent off to steal oranges in the Bazaar for their breakfast, while he sits down to beg. When the beggars object to the Poet taking Hajj's place, he fobs them off by claiming to be a cousin of Hajj.
The wily Poet's begging technique works like a charm: he threatens to curse those who do not give him money ("May your taxes increase!" he shouts at one businessman), and soon earns a few coins. He reflects on his success and sings a paean to Fate, when he is interrupted by Hassen-Ben, a huge man from the desert, who mistakes him for Hajj and kidnaps him.
The Poet (whom we may as well start calling Hajj, as that's the name he goes by for the rest of the show) is taken to Jawan, a notorious brigand. It seems that, fifteen years ago, the real Hajj had placed a curse on Jawan that resulted in the disappearance of the brigand's little son. Now he wants the curse removed. The new Hajj, seeing an opportunity to make a little cash, promises to do so for 100 gold pieces. Jawan leaves for Baghdad to search for his son, and Hajj rejoices in his new-found riches (Fate, Reprise)
Back in the city, the Bazaar is abuzz with salesmen and customers (Bazaar of the Caravans), when a trumpet is heard and the procession of the Wazir of Police comes through. The evil Wazir and his seductive, beautiful wife-of-wives, Lalume, discuss a loan he desperately needs. In return for the money lent from the King of Ababu, the Caliph must marry one (or all three) of the Princesses of Ababu (who perform a sexy dance). Through their Ayah, the Princesses tell Lalume that they wish to return home. Lalume convinces them that Baghad is much more exciting than any other place on earth (Not Since Nineveh)
Meanwhile, Marsinah is being pursued by a fruit merchant whose wares she has stolen. He is about to attack her when her father comes in and rescues her, giving the man money. Hajj gives his daughter half of the money and goes off too. The merchants set out their finest Baubles, Bangles and Beads for the young lady, and, as she sings in wonderment at the riches surrounding her, she is seen by the young Caliph. Along with his advisor, Omar, he has been traveling the town incognito when he sees her. He is immediately struck by her beauty and follows her.
Hajj is basking in the glow of several scantily-dressed slave girls he has just bought when he is stopped by the police, who are checking identities because they are looking for Jawan. Hajj tries to bribe them, but the Chief recognizes the crest of a family Jawan has robbed on the coins, and Hajj is arrested as a thief.
Meanwhile, Marsinah has found a quaint little house with a beautiful garden to buy for her father and herself. She is admiring the garden when the Caliph slips in and, pretending to be a gardener, introduces himself to Marsinah. They fall in love on the spot (Stranger in Paradise). When he must go, they promise to meet again in the garden at moonrise. When the Caliph leaves, he tells Omar that he has fallen in love. He is overheard by some policemen, and they comment on the situation. (He's in Love)
At the Wazir's Palace, Hajj is on trial for theft of 100 pieces of gold. The Wazir has no need for such frivolities as evidence; he immediately sentences Hajj to 20 lashes and the cutting off of his right hand. When the Poet claims innocence, he adds another 20 lashes to the sentence. The poet tries a new tactic: he does not object to the lashes, but "as a poet and storyteller, the loss of a hand would cripple my career!" It is the gesture that tells the story, he says, and goes into detail to prove it (Gesticulate). Though the lovely Lalume (who is attracted to the handsome poet), begs her husband for forgiveness, the Wazir is not convinced, and Hajj gets another twenty lashes. Hajj, desperate, sends a curse the Wazir's way. The Wazir has the sneer already to give to the condemned man when a guard bursts in with news that they have captured Jawan.
The old brigand is brought in, sees the poet, and asks him where his son is. Suddenly, he sees a medallion around the Wazir's neck, a medallion that his son was wearing when he was captured. The Wazir is his son! Jawan praises the power of the great magician, Hajj, a man who has the power to curse and uncurse. Jawan is thrilled to see his son, but the evil Wazir sentences his own father to death. "For the leading judge of Mesopotamia to have as a father the leading criminal of Mesopotamia," he says, "[is] a disturbing thought."
As Jawan is bundled off to execution, the Wazir realizes that the "powerful Magician" has cursed him. Just when he is about to murder the poor Hajj, the Caliph enters with news that he has found a bride, a commoner, and that he will marry her tonight. When he leaves, the Wazir collapses. If the Caliph does not marry the princesses of Ababu, he will be ruined. When he concludes that this is a result of Hajj's curse, he begs Hajj to reverse the situation, promising him a reprieve and the title of Emir. Hajj agrees.
When the Wazir and his council leave, Lalume confronts the Poet. She has seen through his charade, and he is no more wizard than she is. But Hajj must try. Lalume, realizing that he may be her chance out of the dull life she leads (Bored, a song written for the film version but included in most productions today) and already half-way in love with him, promises to help. When the Wazir returns, Hajj and Lalume have the girls of the Harem dance as he sings a powerful and mystic-sounding invocation to fate. During the wild dance distracting the Wazir, Hajj takes the opportunity to jump out the window, leaving his coat behind him. When the Wazir sees he is gone, he clutches the clock in amazement and faints. (Act One Finale)
In a street near the house of his beloved, the Caliph instructs his wedding procession on what to do on this, his wedding night (Night of my Nights). Inside, Marsinah hears the procession, but thinks only of her gardener. (Stranger in Paradise, Reprise). Hajj enters and tells her of the situation he's in, and informs her that they must run immediately for Damascus. But Marsinah refuses to go. They argue, and he nearly strikes her before he runs off, ashamed, and she departs in the opposite direction. When the Caliph enters the garden, his love is not there.
When the Wazir is informed by his spies that the Caliph's bride has disappeared, he rejoices at the power he now wields in having a magician as Emir, and fantasizes about the influence he will hold (Was I Wazir?). He instructs Lalume to keep his new Emir happy, something she is only too eager to do (Rahadlakum).
The pair are just discussing a little trip to a "small oasis, a week's travel by camel" when Marsinah enters the Harem. Father and daughter make up, and she tells him of her lover and asks him to find him for her. Little does she know that the Caliph is, at that exact moment in the next room, ordering the Wazir to find his Love and describing her in detail (And This Is My Beloved).
Later, Hajj and Omar encounter each other and engage a battle of wits, a discussion of fools. It ends when the poet describes an incident that led to an enlightenment for him. (The Olive Tree).
The Wazir, hoping to convince the Caliph that only wanting one wife is just a phase, shows him his harem through a peephole at the exact moment Marsinah wanders in. The Caliph lets out a cry of pain: his love is a member of the Wazir's Harem! The Wazir, not knowing quite what is going on, but sure that Hajj has arranged the whole thing, claims that she is one of his wives. The Caliph, heartbroken, agrees to choose his Wife-of-wives that night during his Diwan. As to not have lied to his prince, the Wazir immediately marries Marsinah himself, promising to visit her that night. She promises to kill herself if he does.
That night, at the Caliph's Diwan, the candidates for his hand are presented and dance for him: Princess Zubedya of Damascus, Princess Samaris of Bangalore, and the Three Ababu Princesses (Zubedya and Samaris' Dance). The Caliph is unmoved. The Wazir takes Hajj, who is searching for Marsinah, aside, and asks him if there is any magic way of making sure that the Caliph picks the Ababu princess. He also casually thanks the "wizard" for placing the Caliph's beloved in his own harem. Laughing, he tells him that he has married her. Pretty little thing, he says, name of Marsinah.
Hajj understands at once what has happened, and pulls a knife. But then he sees a better method of getting rid of the wicked Wazir. He takes a blank plaque from his turban and throws it in a pool, proclaiming that when it is retrieved, it will read the name of the Caliph's fated bride. He secretly gives the Wazir another tablet, this one with the name Ababu written on it, and tells him to hide it in his boot and to retrieve the tablet from the pool and make the switch. The Wazir eagerly agrees. When he enters the pool, Hajj trips him and holds him underwater until he drowns.
Hajj explains all to the Caliph and has Marsinah brought in, joyfully re-uniting the pair. The Caliph is ready to pardon Hajj for his murder of a public official, but the Poet turns him down. He requests to be condemned to be "banished to some dreadful oasis ... at least a week's journey away by camel," and to be made to comfort the Wazir's widow in her "grief." As the two couples unite, the Poet reflects on the fleetingness of The Sands of Time.
The derivation of musical numbers in Kismet from Borodin's music is given partially as follows:
"Sands Of Time": In the Steppes of Central Asia
"Fate": Symphony No. 2, 1st movement, opening theme
"Bazaar of The Caravans": Symphony No. 2, 4th movement, opening theme; Prince Igor, No. 17, "Polovetsian Dances", Wild Dance of the Men
"Not Since Nineveh": Prince Igor, No. 1 (Prologue) & No. 17, "Polovetsian Dances" (introductory theme)
"Baubles, Bangles And Beads": Prince Igor, No. 2a and 2f (Skula and Yeroshka's music); String Quartet No. 2, 2nd Movement (Scherzo), secondary theme
"Stranger In Paradise": Prince Igor, No. 17, "Polovetsian Dances", Gliding Dance of the Maidens
"He's In Love!": Prince Igor, No. 17, "Polovetsian Dances", General Dance (D Major)
"Gesticulate": Prince Igor, No. 15, "Aria of Khan Konchak"; Symphony No. 1, 4th Movement, opening theme
"Night Of My Nights": "Sérénade" from Petite Suite for piano
"And This Is My Beloved": Prince Igor, No. 14 (Ovlur's theme); String Quartet No. 2, 3rd Movement (Notturno, originally in 3/4 meter), opening theme
"The Olive Tree": Prince Igor, No. 23, Trio (also used in the opera's overture)
"Zubbediya, Samahris' Dance": Prince Igor, No. 2b, Song of Vladimir of Galich & No. 17, "Polovetsian Dances", Dance of the Boys and Men
"Stranger In Paradise" has been covered by many artists, including Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett.
The plot of the musical film Silk Stockings starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse revolves around the adaptation of a Russian composer's works for a jazzed-up Hollywood musical, and has been taken to be a reference to the adaptation of Borodin's works to Kismet.
1954 Tony Awards
Tony Award for Best Musical - Book by Charles Lederer, Luther Davis; With Music From Alexander Borodin; Musical Adaptation by Robert Wright, George Forrest; Produced by Charles Lederer (WINNER)
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical - Alfred Drake (WINNER)
Tony Award for Musical Conductor - Louis Adrian (WINNER)
The Kismet Girls a London based singing group
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