Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Aubergine and Richard's reviews of Dogeaters and Little Erik

Jacob Bronson and Carmen Mitchell
Photo by Tamarah Barton
Kismet, currently in production at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park, is generally not considered one of the classics of American musical theatre, despite its Tony win for Best Musical in 1954. Revivals are rare. Its single Broadway restaging, by Lincoln Center in 1965, ran for only 39 performances. This might seem odd—two of its songs are still performed ("Baubles, Bangles, and Beads" and "Stranger in Paradise"), and the rest of the score, borrowed in large part from Russian composer Alexander Borodin, is melodic and lush. The book could use some updating, but given the rich, colorful setting—Baghdad during the time of the Arabian Nights—there is tremendous promise.

Unfortunately, the show has not been significantly updated, and though there are pleasures to be found in this production (a staged concert version), it never really finds its feet. The individual problems are mostly minor, but because they are so numerous, the cumulative effect drags down what should be a light, airy confection.

The orchestra does a workmanlike job with the score, but being relatively small (only 11 pieces), can't reproduce the richness of Borodin's harmonies. Pianist Lucas Sherman is excellent at keeping up the tempo, but the string section was having a bit of trouble playing in unison—both with each other and with the woodwinds—at the performance I attended. Some of the voices, especially in the chorus, have problems with pitch and projection. And speaking of projection, while the projected backdrops have a charming cartoonish quality, the screen isn't properly masked for the image size, leaving black spaces that should have been hidden, but aren't.

There are several delightful performances that almost make up for the problems. Chief among these is Jacob Bronson as the Caliph. His powerful tenor and rich, well-rounded tone are miles above anyone else in the cast. Apparently new to the Bay Area, he's a talent to watch out for. As LaLume, the Wazir's "wife of wives," Brenda Reed is charming, funny, and totally at ease. Her comic sense is right in tune, especially when working with Harry Duke, who plays the Wazir. They are a wonderful comic combo. Tim Setzer as Hajj, the poet around whom the story revolves, also generally finds the right comedic tone.

Though there is much here to like, the overall weakness of the show itself (there's a reason it is rarely revived) and the specific weaknesses of this production do not, unfortunately, merit a recommendation.

Kismet runs through February 28, 2016, at the Codding Theater in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $16-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at