Anyone who's familiar with this classic 1953 musical, which ran for nearly 600 performances in its original Broadway production, knows that Lalume isn't the ornate fantasy's central character. That distinction belongs to The Poet, called Hajj, a rakish fellow whose interest in gaining riches leads him astray and almost leads to the death of his virginal daughter, Marsinah. Fortunately, he manages to right all of Baghdad's wrongs before the final curtain. This is the kind of larger-than-life role that practically begs the star to constantly steal the spotlight; it was ideally suited to the talents of the show's original leading man, Alfred Drake, and to those of Howard Keel, who played the part in the 1955 film version.
It should also be a perfect fit for Brian Stokes Mitchell, no stranger to larger-than-life roles or stepping into Drake's shoes, as he did in Kiss Me, Kate. But, at Thursday night's performance, it appeared that there's still some tailoring left to do. Mitchell was in fine voice, yet his acting seemed somewhat tentative. He relied a bit too much on the script, and he also seemed to have decided to play The Poet with a subtlety that suits neither the role nor the vast cavern that is City Center. Not surprisingly, he seemed most comfortable in his second act interactions with Mazzie, with whom he has co-starred on three previous occasions. They truly bring out the best in each other.
Director Lonny Price has failed to ignite Kismet in this production, instead giving us a genial, pleasant show that lacks the necessary brightness and sharpness. Price's staging is unnecessarily busy, with company members wandering around and through the 41-piece orchestra (led by the brilliant Paul Gemignani) and constantly pulling focus from the main action. Admitedly, making this patchwork musical consistently glisten and gleam isn't the easiest of assignments. Kismet meshes a rather hokey musical comedy book -- slightly condensed by David Ives for this production -- with a tuneful score by Robert Wright and George Forrest, one that borrows the lush melodies of the classical composer Alexander Borodin.
Most of the show's laughs come from two beloved actors in a pair of smallish, non-singing roles: Tom Aldredge as the robber Jawan and Randall Duk Kim as the famed poet Omar Khayyam. You may also find yourself smiling during the rather silly "Rahadlakum," which gives choreographer Sergio Trujillo a chance to show off. This number also makes somewhat better use of the large ensemble and the amazing Elizabeth Parkinson, who otherwise spends a lot of time on stage to little effect.
Conversely, Marcy Harriell manages to make every moment count. This underappreciated actresss completely captures Marsinah's sweetness, winningly trills "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads," and brings down the house during the final section of "And This Is My Beloved." (Her shimmering soprano may come as a surprise to those who know her work in Rent or Lennon, in which she was only able to display her powerful lower register.) As her onstage romantic interest, the Caliph, Danny Gurwin is somewhat miscast -- the role requires a stronger, more masculine presence -- but he sings the part with aplomb.
This Kismet isn't an evening in paradise; it's more like a trip to an Arabian theme park. Fortunately, Marin Mazzie's performance is worth the price of admission.