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Kismet Ball_Michael 01

Michael Ball in Kismet

Kismet

Published 17 April 2008

The grand auditorium of the London Coliseum is the frame within which the rich red set for this new staging of Kismet is assembled. The entrance to a mosque, doorways in a bazaar, the city walls and a secret garden are all conjured in bold colour, with the characters moving about it like multicoloured splashes of paint on a one-colour canvas. Caroline Bishop took a trip to old Baghdad…

A cast and orchestra of over a hundred are employed in this new production of classic Broadway musical Kismet, which hasn’t been staged in London since 1978. A musing on fate and luck, a love story, with a pinch of good versus evil, Kismet is a quaintly traditional musical which seems fitting for the Coliseum stage.

It follows the story of a Poet, who scrounges a living selling rhymes on the streets of Baghdad nearly a millennium ago. When he is accidentally mistaken for the old beggar Hajj, it sets in motion a chain of events that brings him wealth and status. Michael Ball plays the Poet as a cheeky, resourceful and charismatic scoundrel, who makes the most of his good luck and doesn’t worry about the potentially life-threatening consequences. His way with words – and equally his way with the ladies – gets him out of a tricky spot or two along his fated path.

Claiming himself to be a man with magical powers, the Poet is welcomed into the court of the evil Wazir (Graeme Danby), where he seduces his easily-seduceable wife, the buxom and opulent Lalume (Broadway actress Faith Prince). Meanwhile, the Poet’s daughter Marsinah has fallen in love with a man she thinks is a gardener, but is actually the ruling Caliph.

While the romance between Marsinah and the Caliph (beautifully sung by Sarah Tynan and Alfie Boe) is all hearts and flowers, framed by the floral wreath that depicts the garden where they first meet, the Poet and Lalume dispense with the formalities for a fumble in the Wazir’s harem and it is this coupling that provides the laughs of the evening. Grinning ear to ear, Ball’s Poet seems in his element with all the female attention, while Prince is a lady who knows what she wants – and it is not her husband.

Danby is a suitably self-inflated Wazir, while support is given by the somewhat incongruous three Princesses of Ababu, who display the influence of (departed) choreographer Javier De Frutos – with black leather leotards, tightly scraped-back hair, and a suggestive courting ritual, they wouldn’t be out of place in Cabaret.

After many misunderstandings and much evil plotting, the Wazir is thwarted, evil is banished and love prevails, as befits the traditional nature of this tale. How different it all is in modern Baghdad.

Kismet plays until 14 July.

CB

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