Kismet (musical)

Kismet (musical)
Original Logo
Music Alexander Borodin
Adapted by:
Robert Wright
George Forrest
Lyrics Robert Wright
George Forrest
Book Charles Lederer
Luther Davis
Basis Play by Edward Knoblock
Productions 1953 Broadway
1955 West End
1955 Film
1985 New York City Opera
2007 English National Opera
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical

Kismet is a musical with lyrics and musical adaptation (as well as some original music) by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin, and a book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, based on Kismet, the 1911 play by Edward Knoblock.[1][2] The story concerns a wily poet who talks his way out of trouble several times; meanwhile, his beautiful daughter meets and falls in love with the young Caliph.

The musical was first produced on Broadway in 1953 and won the Tony Award for best musical in 1954. It was also successful in London's West End and has been given several revivals. A 1955 film version was released by MGM.


Production history

The musical was commissioned by Edwin Lester, founder and director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and premiered in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1953. The producer was Charles Lederer.[3] The production moved to Broadway on December 3, 1953, playing at the Ziegfeld Theatre. The director was Albert Marre, with choreography by Jack Cole and sumptuous settings and costumes by Lemuel Ayers. The original cast 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 Lalume, the vampy wife of the evil Wazir. Bill Johnson later took over the role of Hajj, and Elaine Malbin the role of Marsinah. Columbia Masterworks Records recorded the original Broadway cast in late 1953; the recording was later reissued on CD by Masterworks Broadway Records.

The show opened in the midst of a newspaper strike,[4] and since newspaper reviews were unavailable, the producers used television advertising to promote the show. The musical caught the popular attention and ran for a successful 583 performances. The strike may have ultimately assisted the popularity of the show, since the reviews, arriving a few weeks after the opening, were not all favorable.[5] One critic, punning on the name of the composer Borodin, disparaged the score as "a lot of borrowed din."[citation needed] Walter Kerr wrote that "It's the sort of show that would sell its soul for a joke, and the jokes should be better at the price."[6] William Hawkins, however, wrote that it was "noisy, spectacular, and vigorous. ... It is melodic and gay".[6] Bloom and Vlastnik noted that it was the score that made the show successful, as the songs "Stranger in Paradise" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" were "huge hits on radio, television and records."[4]

Kismet was even more successful in London's West End, enjoying a 648 performance run at the Stoll Theatre commencing in April 1955. The London production opened with the three stars of the Broadway cast, Drake, Morrow and Diener. They were subsequently replaced by Tudor Evans, Elizabeth Larner and Sheila Bradley, respectively.[7]


The musical was revived at Lincoln Center's New York State Theatre, starting on June 22, 1965, for 39 performances and starring Drake, Lee Venora, Anne Jeffreys, and Henry Calvin.[8]

The New York City Opera presented the musical in October 1985, featuring George Hearn (Hajj) and Maryanne Telese (Marsinah) with direction by Frank Corsaro.[9]

A studio cast recording of the musical was made in 1991 starring Samuel Ramey, Ruth Ann Swenson, Jerry Hadley and Julia Migenes.

Jettisoning the lush oriental context and physical production of the original, a restaging re-titled as Timbuktu! opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on March 1, 1978 and ran for 243 performances.[10] This version, with a new book by Luther Davis, set the story in Africa, with minimalist settings. Plot emphasis was shifted, with Eartha Kitt starring in the role of Lalume.[8]

The New York City Center Encores! series presented a staged concert in February 2006, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie.[11]

The musical was revived in 2007 by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum and starred West End musical veteran Michael Ball and Alfie Boe.

Films and television

The musical was made into a Cinemascope film in 1955 by MGM, starring Howard Keel as Hajj, Ann Blyth as Marsinah, Dolores Gray as Lalume, and Vic Damone as the Caliph. The soaring quartet "This is My Beloved" was changed to a trio, because Sebastian Cabot, who played the Wazir, could not sing.

An Armstrong Theater television version was broadcast in 1967 starring Barbara Eden as Lalume, Jose Ferrer as Haj, Anna Maria Alberghetti as Marsinah, and George Chikaris as the Caliph (among other cast members). The script was edited down to a 90 minute broadcast and jettisoned few musical numbers despite the shorter run time.


Kismet is set in a fictional Baghdad in the times of The Arabian Nights.

Act 1

At a mosque, an imam looks to the heavens as the sun rises ("The Sands of Time"). Three beggars sit outside the temple, but the fourth, Hajj, has gone to Mecca. With a cry of "Rhymes! Fine Rhymes!", a poet enters to sell his verses. His beautiful daughter Marsinah joins in the sales pitch, but they have no success ("Rhymes Have I"). Marsinah is sent to steal oranges in the Bazaar for their breakfast, while her father sits down to beg. When the beggars object to the poet taking Hajj's place, he claims to be a cousin of Hajj. The poet 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 (Fate"), when Hassen-Ben, a huge man from the desert, mistakes him for Hajj and kidnaps him. The poet (who is referred to as Hajj thereafter) is taken to Jawan, a notorious brigand. 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 some money, 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 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 amah, the princesses tell Lalume that they wish to return home. Lalume convinces them that Baghdad is much more exciting than any other place on earth ("Not Since Nineveh").

Marsinah is being pursued by a fruit merchant whose wares she has stolen. Her father arrives to rescue her, giving the man money. Hajj gives his daughter half of the money and leaves. The merchants set out their finest "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" for the young lady. Along with his advisor, Omar, the young Caliph has been traveling the town incognito. He is struck by Marsinah's beauty and follows her. Elsewhere, Hajj is basking in the glow of some 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 her. They fall in love on the spot ("Stranger in Paradise"). They promise to meet again in the garden at moonrise. The Caliph tells Omar that he has fallen in love, and some policemen overhear ("He's in Love").

At the Wazir's Palace, Hajj is on trial for the theft of 100 pieces of gold. The Wazir has no need for such frivolities as evidence; he sentences Hajj to 20 lashes and his right hand is to be cut off. The poet says that, as a poet and storyteller, the loss of a hand would cripple his career. It is the gesture that tells the story ("Gesticulate"). The lovely Lalume, attracted to the handsome poet, begs her husband for forgiveness, but the Wazir is not convinced, and Hajj gets more lashes. As Hajj curses the Wazir, a guard bursts in with news that they have captured Jawan. The old brigand is brought in and asks Hajj where his son is. He sees, 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 led to his execution, the Wazir realizes that the "powerful magician" has cursed him. Just when he is about to murder 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, the Wazir will be ruined. He concludes that this is a result of Hajj's curse and begs Hajj to reverse the situation, promising him a reprieve and the title of Emir. Hajj agrees. Left alone, Lalume confronts the poet. She knows that he is no wizard, but decides that he may be her chance out of the dull life she leads ("Bored")[12] and is falling in love with him; she promises to help. When the Wazir returns, Hajj sings a powerful and mystic-sounding invocation to fate as the slave-girls dance wildly, distracting the Wazir. Hajj jumps out of a window, leaving his coat behind him. When the Wazir sees he is gone, he clutches the cloak in amazement and faints.

Act 2

The Caliph and his wedding procession approach the house of his beloved ("Night of my Nights"). Inside, Marsinah thinks only of her gardener ("Stranger in Paradise" (Reprise)). Hajj enters and tells her of his situation and says that they must flee immediately to Damascus, but Marsinah refuses to go. They argue, and he nearly strikes her before he runs off, ashamed. She departs in the opposite direction. When the Caliph enters the garden, his love is not there.

The Wazir is informed by his spies that the Caliph's bride has disappeared. He rejoices at the power he wields, by having a magician as Emir ("Was I Wazir?"). He instructs Lalume to keep his new Emir happy, and she is eager to comply ("Rahadlakum"). Hajj and Lalume are discussing a trip to a "small oasis, a week's travel by camel" when Marsinah enters the Harem. Father and daughter reconcile, and she tells him of her lover and asks him to find him. At the same time, the Caliph, in the next room, orders the Wazir to find his love ("And This Is My Beloved"). Later, Hajj and Omar encounter each other and engage in a battle of wits. 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 where he sees Marsinah. The Caliph is horrified that his love is a member of the Wazir's Harem! The Wazir, 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. So as not to have lied to his prince, the Wazir immediately marries Marsinah, promising to visit her that night. She vows 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. The Caliph is unmoved. Hajj is searching for Marsinah; the Wazir asks him if there is any magic to ensure that the Caliph picks the Ababu princess. He casually thanks the "wizard" for placing the Caliph's beloved in his own harem. Laughing, he tells him that he has married the pretty little Marsinah. Realizing what has happened, Hajj pulls a knife, but has a better idea. 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 substitute it for the tablet from the pool. When the Wazir enters the pool, Hajj trips him and holds him underwater until he drowns.

Hajj explains all to the Caliph, who is joyfully reunited with Marsinah. The Caliph is ready to pardon Hajj for his murder of a public official, but the poet requests, as his punishment, 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".

Musical numbers

Act 1

  • "Sands of Time" - Imam of the Mosque
  • "Rhymes Have I" - Hajj and Marsinah
  • "Fate" - Hajj
  • "Bazaar of the Caravans" - Street Dancer, Akbar, Assiz, Merchants and Shoppers
  • "Not Since Nineveh" - Lalume, The Wazir of Police, Three Princesses of Ababu, Akbar, Assiz, Merchants and Shoppers
  • "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" - Marsinah
  • "Stranger in Paradise"* - Caliph and Marsinah
  • "He's in Love!" - Chief Policeman, Second Policeman, Prosecutor, Three Princesses of Ababu, Akbar, Assiz, Caliph and Omar
  • "Gesticulate" - Hajj and Wazir's Council
  • "Fate (Reprise)" - Hajj and Ladies of the Wazir's Harem

Act 2

  • "Night of My Nights" - Caliph and Entourage
  • "Stranger in Paradise (Reprise)" - Marsinah
  • "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads (Reprise)" - The Caliph
  • "He's in Love! (Reprise)" - Entourage
  • "Was I Wazir?" - The Wazir of Police, Policemen and Guards
  • "Rahadlakum"* - Hajj, Lalume, Princess Zubbediya of Damascus, Princess Samaris of Bangalore, Three Princesses and Wazir's Harem
  • "And This Is My Beloved" - Marsinah, Caliph, Hajj and The Wazir of Police
  • "The Olive Tree" - Hajj
  • "Ceremonial of the Caliph's Diwan" - Diwan Dancers
  • "Presentation of Princesses" - Princess Zubbediya of Damascus, Ayah, Princess Samaris of Bangalore and Princess of Ababu
  • "Finale" - Ensemble and Hajj

*Wright and Forrest composed the music for the bridge in "Stranger In Paradise" as well as the music for "Rahadlakum." The music for the latter was originally used in the Wright and Forrest song "I'm Going Moroccan for Johnny."[13][14][15]

Borodin source material

According to Richard E. Rodda in his 2008 liner notes to recordings of Borodin works, Robert Wright and George Forrest specialized in "turning melodies from classical music into film scores and popular songs". The following Borodin works were used as musical sources for Kismet:

  • In the Steppes of Central Asia ("Sands of Time")
  • Symphony No. 2, Movement 1 ("Fate")
  • "Polovtsian Dances" from Prince Igor ("Bazaar of Caravans", "Stranger in Paradise", "He's in Love", "Samaris' Dance")
  • String Quartet No. 2, Movement 2 ("Baubles, Bangles and Beads"), Movement 3 ("And This Is My Beloved")
  • String Quartet No. 1, Movement 4 ("Was I Wazir?")
  • Symphony No. 1, Movement 4 ("Gesticulate")
  • "Serenade" from the Petite Suite ("Night of My Nights")
  • Act III trio from Prince Igor ("The Olive Tree")
  • "Aria of Vladimir Galitsky" from Prince Igor ("Zubbediya")

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)


  • Borodin, A. Le Prince Igor. Partition pour chant et piano. Edition M.P. Belaieff. (Russian, French, and German text.)
  • Rodda, Richard E. Ravel, Borodin, Bizet. Liner notes to CD recording by Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. 2008, Telarc CD-80703


  1. ^ VarietyVariety (requires subscription)
  2. ^ Hochman, Stanley. "Kismet (1953)". McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, vol. 3, p. 495, 1984, ISBN 0070791694
  3. ^ Green, Stanley and Green, Kay. "Kismet". Broadway Musicals, Show By Show (ed 5), Hal Leonard Corporation, 1996, p. 158 ISBN 0793577500
  4. ^ a b Bloom, Ken; Vlastnik, Frank; Orbach, Jerry. Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time, Black Dog Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1579123139, p. 166
  5. ^ Kenrick, John. "Stage Musicals 1950s - Part 1"., accessed January 5, 2010
  6. ^ a b Miletich, Leo N. Broadway's prize-winning musicals Broadway's prize-winning musicals, Psychology Press, 1993, ISBN 1560242884, p. 28
  7. ^ Green, Stanley. Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, Da Capo Press, 1980, ISBN 0306801132, p. 235
  8. ^ a b Suskin, Steven. Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers. Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers, Oxford University Press US, 2010 (4 ed, revised), ISBN 0195314077, p. 409
  9. ^ Henahan, Donal."City Opera: 'Kismet' Makes Season Debut"The New York Times, October 4, 1985
  10. ^ "Internet Broadway Database listing, 'Timbuktu!', 1978" Internet Broadway Database, accessed January 6, 2011
  11. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theatre Review:After 50 Years, the Return of Bangles, Beads and Kitsch"The New York Times, February 11, 2006
  12. ^ "Bored" is a song written for the film adaptation of the musical, but it is included in most productions today
  13. ^ They also composed "Bored," for Lalume to sing to Hajj following "Gesticulate" just before the end of Act I. Cut from the original production, it was performed by Dolores Grey in the film version, and has been used in most subsequent productions as a showpiece for the character. "Copacabana Revue (6/2/43)"., accessed January 5, 2011
  14. ^ "The Grand Tour, Part 2". Stage Left (KDHX, FM 88.1), August 15, 2001
  15. ^ "A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream"., accessed January 5, 2011

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