Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, professional vocalists and New York City actors collaborate on ‘Kismet’
“Kismet” is the most ambitious project that the Santa Barbara Symphony and the State Street Ballet have ever tackled together.
That’s according to the two ensembles’ artistic directors, who are clearly excited about presenting the musical, which includes elaborate costumes, sets, professional vocalists, and performers from around the world, including actors based in New York City.
“In my quarter century here as founder (of the State Street Ballet), I’ve never seen this much going on at one time,” Rodney Gustafson, the ballet’s creative director, told the News-Press. “We’ve done big things with a hundred singers on risers and us on the stage and the Santa Barbara Symphony in the pit. We’ve done nothing of this magnitude, with such a variety of talent, with leading people from Broadway.”
Nir Kabaretti, the symphony’s music and artistic director, is equally excited.
“We just got back from New York, where we had one week working with the cast in the five main roles for the show,” said Maestro Kabaretti, who is working with vocalists as the musical director of “Kismet.” “We have 21 professional singers, including nine from Santa Barbara County.”
The product of local philanthropy and coast-to-coast enthusiasm, “Kismet” will be presented at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 and 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at The Granada, 1214 State St.
“Kismet” is a Tony-winning musical set in and around ancient Baghdad, where an opportunist/poet gets into and out of trouble in ways fitting for a musical comedy. There’s also the Caliph, who’s determined to get married, and plenty of plot twists.
The musical is Charles Lederer and Luther Davis’ Tony-winning 1954 adaptation of the 1911 play “Kismet” by Edward Knoblock. The lyrics and music are by Robert Wright and George Forrest, who adapted the music of Russian classical composer Alexander Borodin (1833-1887).
The musical was adapted into a 1955 film, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Howard Keel as the poet and Ann Blyth as Marsinah.
The Santa Barbara production includes New York City actors Jonathan Raviv as Hajj and Sherz Atehata as Lalume.
Both Maestro Kabaretti and Mr. Gustafson are excited about presenting “Kismet” before an in-person audience.
“It’s been 18 months that we haven’t had an (in-person) audience,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “We’re all looking forward to performing in front of a live audience. For the dancers, for the musicians, it’s a thrill to be back.
‘It’s an important moment, and I couldn’t be happier to do something on this level of collaboration,” Maestro Kabaretti said.
Mr. Gustafson said the audience can expect a bigger production than a typical Broadway show.
“Usually with a Broadway show, you would have an orchestra that is fairly small and not known to be a symphony with its own conductor,” Mr. Gustafson said, noting Maestro Kabaretti’s vast credentials and expertise.
The symphony conductor praised the musical’s score.
“There are not many classical composers whose music becomes a Broadway standard,” Maestro Kabaretti said. He was referring to the musical’s song, “Stranger in Paradise,” a song in which Mr. Wright and Mr. Forrest based the melody on Borodin’s “Gliding Dance of the Maidens” from the Polovtsian Dances in the opera “Prince Igor.”
Maestro Kabaretti said the audience will likely recognize “Stranger in Paradise,” which Frank Sinatra recorded.
“And the musical has a lot of classical moments. It’s very symphonic at times,” he said, adding that the varied score also includes jazz moments.
Maestro Kabaretti noted that the production’s singers are highly professional and show their talent with a diversity of styles.
“There are some lines that require more operatic singing, some lines that require more Broadway singing,” said Maestro Kabaretti, who works with the vocalists as the “Kismet” musical director.
Lonny Price, who is directing “Kismet,” also praised the music.
“Kismet boasts one of the most magnificent scores ever heard on a Broadway stage,” Mr. Price, known for his Broadway productions of classics such as “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunset Boulevard,” said in a statement.
He added that diversity was important in this production.
“Our dream was to have a production cast with as many MENASA (Middle Eastern, North Africa, South Africa) performers as we could find to add a genuine authenticity to the show and honor the magnificent traditions and cultures that this musical reflects.
“I am so happy to say, I think this may be the most authentic cast to play this show, ever!” Mr. Price said.
In another statement, William Soleau, the State Street Ballet’s co-artistic director and the show’s choreographer, noted Mr. Price “wanted a brand new, top to the bottom, original interpretation of this musical. We are using full blown dance numbers to move the narrative forward, and it is a dream to be able to revive this classic, Tony Award-winning show.”
Mr. Gustafson, who praised Mr. Soleau for his brilliant choreography, told the News-Press that the show has “exceptional, better dancers than you would find in a Broadway show.
“And the costumes are unbelievable,” Mr. Gustafson said. “We have a 14,000-square foot space we had to rent because the costumes are so exotic. There’s no other way to describe them. They’re very exotic.”
He noted State Street Ballet has dancers from six countries in “Kismet.” “It’s certainly a diverse show.”