“Kismet” Baubles, Bangles, and Sparkling Costumes

August 4, 2010

The College Light Opera Company’s “Kismet” is a vibrant tale of love and poetry, full of colorful characters, classic tunes, and, of course, baubles, bangles, and beads, as kismet, or fate, prevails. Michael Canestraro directed and choreographed the production, while Elizabeth Hastings provided musical direction.

The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1953, takes place in ancient Baghdad and follows a “public poet” (Brandon Grimes) who is finding a hard time earning a living by selling his rhymes. His beautiful daughter Marsinah (Samantha Helmstetter) joins him in “Rhymes Have I,” a lovely duet. Mr. Grimes has a commanding stage presence and an appealing comedic charm, as well as a good voice, and is perfect for this role as a lovable con artist. His height is an advantage, but it is his personality and acting skill that makes him a hit, and the show along with him.

Ms. Helmstetter has a beautiful soprano voice, soaring easily and gracefully to the high notes. Her fresh romantic charm makes her character believable.

Since “a man can sell anything in this world except poems,” the poet assumes the identity of a beggar named Hajj in order to claim a favorable spot to beg. He convinces others that he has the power to make and remove curses, which brings him wealth, most of which he hands over to Marsinah, who contemplates how to spend it in “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.”

Hajj’s wealth gets him arrested and the police bring him to face the Wazir (Zach Garcia), who, convinced that Hajj has special powers, takes him on as his personal wizard, making him an emir. The Wazir has an amorous wife, Lalume (Amanda Horvath), and she and Hajj hit it off quickly.

Mr. Garcia is an amiable villain, and Ms. Horvath is engaging as the lusty first wife in the harem, who knows what she wants and how to get it. And she knows how to sing, too, doing a fine job on “Not Since Neneveh,” in which she is neatly carried in a reclining position.

Meanwhile, Marsinah meets the Caliph (Justin John Moniz) while he is disguised as a gardener. It is love at first sight for them too (“Stranger in Paradise”), but the road to marriage is full of twists and turns. Though Mr. Moniz’s Caliph is somewhat subdued when speaking, he has a wonderful singing voice, especially in “Stranger in Paradise” and “Night of My Nights,” in which he gives instructions for his wedding celebration.

Michael Puglia plays the poet and philosopher Omar Khayam, starting the show off with a heartfelt “Sands of Time,” and offering wit and wisdom along the way.

There are many fine ensemble numbers in this show, some romantic, some powerful, and some humorous. “Was I Wazir” provides some very funny choreography and pantomiming from the policemen and guards, while the women dancers offer graceful exotic dancing throughout.

Kate Gosnell’s dancing, as Nedar, a genie, opens and closes the show, a nice touch.

The costumes sparkle; there are many-hued flowing skirts and pantaloons, ornate vests, full sleeves, and sashes, and harem outfits that leave midriffs exposed for belly dancing. The set is fairly simple, but effective, consisting of the outlines of a mosque, but it is the sumptuous costumes that provide the eye with ever-changing visual splendor. Costume design is by Kate Boucher; Tim Boucher is set designer and technical director.

The music for “Kismet” was composed by Robert Wright and George Forrest, much of it based on the classical music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1877), a Russian romantic composer. Themes from his opera, “Prince Igor,” including the Polovtsian Dances, and his string quartets are evident in “Stranger in Paradise,” “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” “Night of My Nights,” “Sands of Time,” “Fate,” “The Olive Tree,” and “Gesticulate.” Borodin was posthumously awarded a Tony Award in 1954 for the show.

The orchestra does a great job with this material, supporting the vocalists and the energetic dancers throughout and contributing drama, romance, humor and exotic flavor to the show.

“Kismet” continues through Saturday at 8 PM at Highfield Theatre in Falmouth. There is also a matinee Thursday at 2 PM. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by calling 508-548-0668, or by visiting the CLOC box office, 58 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. Box office hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 12:30 PM, 2 to 5 PM, and 7 to 9 PM.

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