At The Production Company’s Kismet, audience members are the Strangers in Paradise, enjoying a glittering production of a seldom seen musical.
Owing more to the world of operetta than Broadway, Kismet harks form a bygone age of the theatre and as such it fits perfectly into TPC’s long stated goal to present rarely staged shows. Clearly a labour of love from all concerned, the production is as lavish as one could hope for in a concert setting, with costumes and choreography, in particular, being artistic highpoints.
Adapted from the work of classical composer Alexander Borodin, the 1953 Tony winning musical has an exceptionally lush score. Giving a superb performance of the score, it is wonderful to see Orchestra Victoria featured downstage, adjacent to the action rather than framing it. Full credit goes to Musical Director Peter Casey for having musicians and singers sounding so beautiful.
The plot takes full advantage of the exoticism and pageantry of a Baghdad far removed from today’s image. The pace of the storytelling, however, has not kept up with current trends and some sections could have benefitted from judicious trimming. The theme of fate drives the action, mocking the characters’ attempts at manipulation, miracles and wizardry. Director Terence O’Connell demonstrates a sure hand in balancing the believability of the lovers with the high camp of the villains.
If opera singer Gary Rowley does not quite achieve the full sparkle and mischief of the poet Hajj, he more than makes up for it with his magnificent singing. His richly sonorous bass voice and clear diction sounding wonderful in numbers such as “Fate” and “The Olive Tree”.
Janet Todd is a delight as Hajj’s beloved daughter Marsinah, very well matched in looks, voice and performance by Josh Piterman as The Caliph. A rather perfect young couple, they are blessed with the classic “Strangers in Paradise”, and their act two duet “And This Is My Beloved” is even more enchanting.
After a somewhat slow beginning, interest really picks up with the appearance of the Wazir of Police and Lalume, his wife of wives. The highly redoubtable Mitchell Butel follows his recent success in Opera Australia’s The Mikado with another high energy, archly comic performance as the Wazir. With narrowing of beady eyes and swishing of purple robes, Butel gleefully dispenses the Wazir’s self-centred malevolence, raising the energy whenever on stage. Chelsea Plumley has never been sexier than as the voluptuous Lalume. Her magnetic presence holds attention throughout and her act one production number “Not Since Nineveh” is a smash.
The company of 29 is generously supplemented by a further ten dancers from Patrick Studios, which significantly adds to the spectacle. Choreographer Alana Scanlan has achieved her best work in recent memory, with choreography that is tight, well chosen and, best of all, witty. The Three Princesses of Ababu, Leah Lim, Jacinta Sievers and Celina Yuen, are eye popping with their snappy, precise fan dance and umbrella dance. Halimah Kyrgios is another knockout with the wild African-styled dance of Princess Samahris.
Crowning achievement in the staging is the costume design by Kim Bishop. Glittering, jewel tones abound, with equal attention lavished on ensemble and principals alike. Highlights include Marsinah’s yellow dress that sparkled as if lit by a battery pack, Lalume’s busty sky blue number and The Caliph’s regals robes and headwear. Andrew Bellchamber’s set design contains exotic elements but does not quite match the quality of the costumes. Draped white fabrics pick up Trent Suidgest’s rich, colourful lighting effectively.
Lovers of time honoured musicals would be hard pressed to find a more beautifully sung production than The Production Company’s Kismet.
Photos; Jeff Busby