Tony Award Winners: 1954, Kismet

9 Mar



Now we come to the weakest Best Musical yet:  Kismet.   I’m partially biased against it because if you take away the whole 1001 Nights theme, what you have is an operetta, a format which I never really could get into completely.   The problem with operetta is that the shows tended to not be about the story, nor did they have to do with the music.  Atmosphere is everything, so all you do is pick an Arabian theme, set the music as a pop version of something that sounded vaguely middle eastern, make the book as broad as possible (and melodramatic), and find excuses for women to be scantily clad without actually showing anything.

And they layer on that middle eastern theme very thick–not a second goes by without Arabian trills, finger cymbals, drums, or chanting.   Add on to that light opera, and the occasional jazzy pop bit (because har har har, they didn’t really listen to jazz in ancient Araby).   None of it is in the least bit subtle.

The strangest bit is that a couple of songs were quite good, covered by others and stripped of all the pseudo-middle eastern gloop.    The worst part is the humor songs, which are each and every one incredibly lame.

Some interesting bits–one reason allegedly this show did so well was because when it premiered there was a newspaper strike–so the critics, who had very mixed reviews when they finally came out, didn’t really have a chance to sink the show.   Also, this show was heavily pushed on TV and Radio (no newspapers also meant no ads for the show, the primary means of advertising up through this point), and there were two hit songs–Baubles, Bangles, and Beads, and Stranger in Paradise.  The other song that I think is good is He’s in Love.

If you want to know where Aladdin came from, this is it.   The main character even sounds like Robin Williams, except less clever.   The plot is essentially the same (without the genie) and all the tropes are there.  Even the Wazir is a non-magical version of Jafar, trying to marry off women to the prince for a payback.   He’s completely over the top, and not in a good way.

It’s no wonder that the musical flopped as a movie.   While I can see why MGM bit at this hook (it seems very much like an MGM musical on paper, besides the story of Kismet had made 2 successful movies before this), there’s absolutely no energy in the story and the songs all blend together.   Allegedly, Vincente Minelli hated this show and made the movie because he had to.

The only other show that season that might have been a better pick was the show Can-Can, one of the weaker (but by no means bad) Cole Porter shows.

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