New staging of 'Kismet' puts on the glitz


Any production of "Kismet" that wants to wow us had better come through with all the "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" promised by that particular song.

The Cockpit in Court summer theater delivers on that promise with enough glitter to make this Arabian Nights musical fantasy a swell way to pass a hot summer night in Baltimore.

That the exotic costumes by James J. Fasching owe as much to Broadway in 1995 as to Baghdad in 1071 only adds to the silly, kitschy appeal of this musical. When director Braxton J. Peters sends his sultry troupe of harem members and soldiers parading down the theater aisles, you smile at the spectacle and don't worry overmuch whether it corresponds to the archaeological record.

Although the plot has a lot of coincidences, the story never matters as much as the fantasized ancient Middle Eastern setting. Still, there are a few principal characters who transcend their lavish costumes.

The Poet (Thomas Zielinski) is an enterprising beggar whose quick wit prompts instant poems and gets him out of life-threatening situations in this autocratic kingdom. Suitably bearded and blustery as this self-confident confidence man, Mr. Zielinski has a commanding vocal talent that is put to good use in such numbers as "Rhymes Have I."

If anything, this powerful baritone often holds the stage so completely that he overwhelms other company members. His operatic stance is at odds with that of other cast members, who treat the material as light musical theater.

Fortunately, he's not the only capable singer in Baghdad. One voice that manages to be both pretty strong and just plain pretty belongs to Barbara Ellis Zeller, who plays the Poet's daughter, Marsinah. When she and the equally sweet-toned Caliph (Jeff Burch) draw close together to sing their love duet, "Stranger in Paradise," you can't help rooting for their amorous cause.

The score glides with ease from romantic intimacy to the pagan equivalent of a burlesque bump-and-grind routine, so it's too bad this "Kismet" doesn't get more reliable support from the orchestra pit. The band, conducted by Ronald J. Gretz, is too often shrill when it should have the sensuous allure of a snake charmer.


When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Aug. 3, 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 6

Where: Cockpit in Court summer theater, Essex Community College

Tickets: $13

Call: (410) 780-6369

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