by Ellis Nassour

    City Center's new season of its acclaimed Encores! series of concert revivals of musicals got off to a rousing start last night with a large and colorful production of Robert Wright/George Forrest/Alexander Borodin's Kismet.

    Tony and Drama Desk Award winner [and multiple nominee] Brian Stokes Mitchell portrays the handsome but slippery poet Hajj and multiple Tony and Drama Desk nominee Marin Mazzie proved to be an apt choice for the plum role of Lalume, the "man-hungry" wife of Bagdad's Wazir of Police.

    Mitchell and Mazzie, having worked together in Ragtime, Man of La Mancha and Kiss Me, Kate, were quite comfortable with the other.

    Both are also Encores! veterans. He starred in Do, Re, Mi and Carnival. She made her Encores! debut in Out of This World.

    The featured cast includes tiny dynamo Danny Rutigliano [The Lion King], who all but walked off with the show, as the Wazir; Marcy Harriell [Lennon] as Marsinah, Hajj's daughter; and Danny Gurwin [Little Women, Urinetown, The Full Monty] as the Caliph. Multiple Tony-nominee Tom Aldredge appears in the role of Jawan. Elizabeth Parkinson [Movin' Out] plays genie Nedeb.

    In other roles are Randall Duk Kim [Flower Drum Song, Golden Child, The King and I], Michael X. Martin [All Shook Up, Oklahoma!, Kiss Me, Kate] and Frank Mastrone [Saturday Night Fever, Jekyll & Hyde and Rachelle Rak [Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

    The production is lavish and big, featuring a cast of 37 [including lovlies as slave girls and harem attendants and hunks as divan carriers, police and henchmen] and the largest orchestra ever: 40 musicians. The energetic choreography is by Sergio Trujilo, amazing considering the limited rehearsal time. Lonnie Price is director.

    The book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis is not the least bit dated and is ripe with humor and some stand-out one-liners.

    Many, many years later, Wright and Forrest were the driving force behind Grand Hotel, which took two decades to get to Broadway - with the added help of Maury Yeston and director/choreographer Tommy Tune.

    Encores! Kismet marks Sondheim musicals veteran Paul Gemignani's debut as music director. He hand-picked the show for his debut. Jack Viertel continues as artistic director.

    "I wanted to do Kismet to hear the score performed as it should be, with a forty-piece orchestra," says Gemignani. "No one can afford to do that on Broadway anymore."

    The Arabian Nights-style comedy has a lush, romantic score that includes the classics "And This Is My Beloved," "Stranger in Paradise," "Fate," "Rhymes Have I," "Night Of My Nights" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." The score's "Gesticulate" and the tongue-twister "Rahadlakum" are the basis for two extravagantly-staged production numbers.

    The original orchestrations by Arthur Kay, sometimes exotic and sometimes brassy, are first class.

    Gemignani music directed Encores! 1999 Do Re Mi. He served as music director and conducted 35 Broadway shows, including On the Twentieth Century, Evita!, Crazy For You and the acclaimed Kiss Me, Kate revival. In 2001, he was honored with a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

    Kismet opened on Broadway in December, 1953 and ran 583 performances [nearly a year and a half], winning three Tony Awards including Best Musical. It starred theater legend Alfred Drake as Hajii, Joan Diener [later to star in the original MOLM] as Lalume, Doretta Morrow as Marsinah and, as the Caliph, Richard Kiley, who went on to become a major Broadway musical star [La Mancha; Redhead opposite Gwen Verdon; No Strings, opposite Diahann Carroll.]

    Upcoming in the 2006 season are Kander and Ebb/Joe Masteroff's 70 Girls, 70 [1971], March 30 - April 2; and George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's 1931 Pulitzer-Prize winner for Drama Of Thee I Sing, May 11 - 14.

    Lead sponsorship for Encores! 2006 season is provided by Newman's Own. Season tickets and available single seats are available at the City Center box office, through CityTix at (212) 581-1212, or online at http://www.nycitycenter.org/. Prices range from $90 to $25.

    Remaining Kismet performances are tonight, Saturday [2 and 8 P.M.] and Sunday [6:30].


The lunch-time series Food for Thought opens its 12th season with Tony winners Marian Seldes and Eli Wallach in readings of two short pieces by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller on Monday, February 27th at 12:30 P.M. at the Player's Club [16 Gramercy Park South between Park Avenue and Irving Place].

Ms. Seldes will read Beavers; Mr. Wallach, Bulldog. The double bill is described by FFT artistic director Susan Charlotte as "two pieces of prose performed as dramatic monologues." A Q&A will follow the presentation.

Tickets are $55 and include lunch and a post-performance wine and cheese reception. For reservations call (212) 362-2560 or (646) 366-9340.


She certainly has a lot to be sorry about - waiting so long to make her New York legit bow; but Ali MacGraw has joined the cast of the Broadway-bound London hit Festen, produced over there by the Almeida Theatre.

Co-starring are Emmy-winning Larry Bryggman, a staple on the TV soap As the World Turns and most recently on Broadway in 12 Angry Men as well as his Tony-nominated performances in Proof and Roundabout's Picnic revival; and stage veterans Michael Hayden and Julianna Margulies [perhaps best known for her Emmy-winning role as nurse Hathaway on TV's ER].

The large featured cast will include Keith Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Stephen Kunken [Hal in Proof opposite Anne Heche], Carrie Preston and C.J. Wilson.

Producers Bill Kenwright and Marla Rubin describe Festen as a hilarious, tense and heartbreaking family drama. The London Sunday Times called it "electrifying, shocking and profoundly moving├ľA thrilling modern tragedy."

It was nominated for five 2004 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and won the Evening Standard Awards for Direction and Design.

Festen has been adapted by David Elodridge from a play co-written by Thomas Vinterberg and his cult 1998 Danish film of the same name [titled The Celebration for U.S. distribution] that gave birth to the film movement the Danes called "Dogme 95," which focused on realism and bare-bones technique [ala Lars Von Trier] and allow actors "to capture human movement."

The plot follows the 60th birthay party thrown by the wife [MacGraw] of Helge Klingenfelt [Bryggman] "which spirals, into a night of humor and terror (often both at the same time)" when a son opens the lid on a family secret. As the games begin, revelations and accusations tumble across the dinner table.

opens at the Music Box Theatre, with performances beginning March 23. The Almeida's creative team, led by director Rufus Norris, reassembles for the Broadway production.

MacGraw, an Academy Award nominee for Love Story, has performed out West. She is best known for her roles in such blockbuster films as Goodbye, Columbus and The Getaway, the TV mini-series The Winds of War and her 1985 role on the hit series Dynasty.

She's a noted photographer, author and an outspoken social and feminine activist. In 1971, she was on the cover of Time; and, in 1991, the former model was chosen by People as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. She was also the one-time face of Chanel perfume. MacGraw had two famous husbands: Steve McQueen and producer Bob Evans. Both marriages ended in divorce.

Hot Peas 'n Butter, founded by New York musicians Danny Lapidus and Francisco Cotto, will be in concert Saturday, March 4, at 11 A.M. and Saturday, March 4, at 2 P.M. in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre. HPNB is a unique children's musical group founded on the premise of reaching children through music without lowering musical standards. Tickets are $20 and$16 for adults; $12, children; and $7, $11 and $16 for members.

On Saturday, March 11, at 11 A.M and 3 P.M. and Sunday, March 12, at 3, Symphony Space's Just Kidding Series will present the Paper Bag Players in Pineapple Soup! in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre. This production is recommended for ages three and up. The Paper Bag Players have been setting the standard for children's theatre for almost half a century. The new show is a "happy" collection of 10 short plays that include dance, audience participation, mime, painting and ragtime. Tickets are $10 to $25.

Symphony Space is at Broadway and 95th Street. Box office hours are: Tuesday-Sunday, Noon to 7 P.M. Tickets can be purchased by phone, (212) 864-5400, on-line at www.symphonyspace.org. For information and membership benefits, visit the website.

On Monday, March 6, at 7 P.M., in SS's Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater, a long-time home of art house classics, there will be a free screening of Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theater. This will be the New York premiere of the documentary on the remarkable, but short, life of theater visionary and regional theater pioneer Margo Jones.

Though not a household name, Jones, nicknamed the "Texas Tornado" for her larger-than-life personality, left a rich cultural legacy. During the '40s and '50s, she pioneered the regional theater movement, championed the work of new playwrights, including Tennessee Williams, and crusaded against the commercial domination of New York theater. She died at 43, just six months following her triumphant world premiere of Inherit the Wind.

The 60-minute documentary [produced by Dallas' KERA-TV], narrated by Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden and starring Richard Thomas and, as Jones, Judith Ivey, weaves together excerpts from three plays with interviews, archival photographs and film.



Friday, February 10, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Item Link

Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The last five columns written by Ellis Nassour:

07/02/2010: Summer in the City: Fireworks on the Hudson Launch a Season with Plenty to Do and See

06/13/2010: The 64th Annual Tony Awards Celebrating Broadway Achievement

06/10/2010: Tony Honoree Marian Seldes: Grand Duse of the American Theater

06/08/2010: Starry, Starry Nights [Hopefully] with the Bard; Broadway by the Year Celebrates 10th Anniversary; Old Flames Reignite [Onstage]; Summer in and Out of the City; Stars Rally for Dancers; Cast CDs and Re-releases; New to DVD

05/21/2010: Patti LuPone Hosts Sunday's Drama Desk Awards; A Starry, Starry Season; Tovah Feldshuh, Sherman Brothers Honored; Broadway By the Year Season Finale

For a listing of all features written by Ellis, click here.