The only major complaint that arises after seeing Lyric Stage's concert staging of the musical Kismet is a lament that this show isn't produced more often. It should be up there on the list of oft-revived musicals, like The Music Man and the Rodgers and Hammerstein biggies.
It won the 1954 Tony Award for Best Musical, has gorgeous music by Robert Wright and George Forrest (based on the themes of Alexander Borodin), features vividly drawn characters and crowd-pleasing musical comedy material. (The book is by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, based on the play by Edward Knoblock.)
No reason to believe it wouldn't be a hit every time.
In the past five seasons, Lyric has been in the business of revivals of classics, both well-known and underappreciated, with full orchestras (its just-announced 2012-'13 season is heavier on the underappreciated ones). But much like its Show Boat in 2010, Kismet is a huge show that could be cost-prohibitive with a full staging and full orchestra. So here, the cast is dressed in their contemporary clothes (mostly black, but with some color schemes going on, especially with shiny baubles on the women), there are minor props and set pieces, and the concert is semi-staged (directed and choreographed by Len Pfluger). There are entrances, exits, light cues and physical comedy.
As for setting up everything in our imagination, the stellar cast does a fine job of accomplishing that without having the real costumes and sets. But their biggest helper in that is Lyric's 40-piece orchestra, conducted by musical director Jay Dias. The strings! A celesta! Booming percussion!
The story deals with a Public Poet (Christopher Carl) in Baghdad, in the year 1071 (same time as the Arabian Nights story). He's always in trouble, but clever and handsome enough to work his way out of tricky situations. After he's accused of stealing a large sum of gold pieces, he's taken into custody, but convinces the Wazir of Police (Brian Mathis) that he's a wizard, and becomes a Hajj with the help of the Wazir's flirty wife Lalume (Margaret Shafer). Meanwhile, the Poet's beautiful daughter Marsinah (Cecily Ellis-Bills) falls for a man (Jonathan Bragg) before finding out that he's the rich Caliph.
The best-known song in the show is "Stranger in Paradise," a love duet between Marsinah and the Caliph, and Ellis-Bills and Bragg make it soar, their powerful voices filled with longing and romance. Mathis is terrific as the Wazir, and Shafer the show-stealer as his wife, who, like her husband, has her own harem (which he doesn't know about).
As the Poet, Carl, who has been on Broadway in South Pacific and toured in The Phantom of the Opera (as the Phantom), Camelot and 42nd Street, is perfect for this role. Someone needs to cast him in a fully staged production asap. A triple threat for leading men in musicals (acts, sings, dashingly handsome), he displays a knack for physical comedy and his scenes with Lalume are among the show's best.
Because this is a concert version, it's a short run. The last performance is today. Get tickets asap, and then buy season tickets to Lyric's fantastic lineup for its 2012-'13 season. With Kismet, Lyric again proves why it's the most important musical theater in the region.