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The Writing of Kismet

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

The score was written many years before the show opened, written for a different genre, to tell a different story, or no story at all. The tunes are already known to the public, having achieved a certain measure of popularity, so the audience can whistle them on their way in to the theatre. Songs that are already hits are cobbled together to tell a new story, usually fashioned in efforts to include as many hits as possible, just like a jukebox.

Long before the current craze for "jukebox" musicals, Robert Wright and George Forrest created a series of musicals with melodies taken from the catalogue of classical composers. The best of these was Kismet, and Wright and Forrest's involvement is far beyond what the contemporary cobblers do.

It takes a village to create a musical. It needs a brilliant lyricist, librettist, composer and director at the very least. If the composer isn't involved (or a lyricist, in the case of jukebox shows), the creative team is missing an essential contributor. Certain producers, unfortunately, feel that this is the best way to go: one fewer artist to deal with, plus familiar songs by a popular songwriter so that the show sells itself.

Wright and Forrest took melodies from the part-time Russian composer Alexander Borodin and refashioned them so that they could become the sort of hit enjoyed by a public that doesn't usually appreciate classical music, and also to tell an old story, the Otis Skinner vehicle, Kismet.

As a string quartet, the melody that is used for the song "And This Is My Beloved" is a slow waltz. Wright and Forrest reset it in 4/4 to a 1-2-4 pulse and add a glorious bridge. For "Stranger In Paradise" they added an even more wonderful bridge that travels, harmonically, in a sophisticated way. The original tune is repetitive, almost pentatonic. The show business know-how with which it was refashioned lead to the most popular classical-to-popular-hit transformation ever.

Their lyrics can be amusingly florid, since they're playing up the exoticism of old Bagdad, of all places. Few other shows could get away with: "Let peacocks and monkeys in purple adornings show her the way to my bridal chamber. Then get you gone my morning of mornings after the night of my nights."

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Cast Recordings

Kismet original Broadway castKismet (1953 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Starring Alfred Drake. Includes interviews with stars Alfred Drake and Doretta Morrow as well as writer George Forrest. Songs include: Overture, Sands Of Time, Rhymes Have I, Fate, Bazaar of The Caravans, Not Since Nineveh, Baubles, Bangles And Beads, Stranger In Paradise, He's In Love!, Gesticulate, Night Of My Nights, Was I Wazir?, Rahadlakum, And This Is My Beloved, The Olive Tree, Zubbediya, Samahris' Dance, Finale: Sands Of Time, Stage Struck: In The Studio, and Stage Struck: Interviews With Alfred Drake, Dorettta Morrow And George Forrest.

Kismet Soundtrack RecordingMGM's Kismet: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Amazon.com Starring Howard Keel and Delores Gray. Songs include: Main Title(Not Since Nineveh Stranger In Paradise), Rhymes Have I, Fate, Bazaar Of The Caravans, Not Since Nineveh, Dabba (Stranger In Paradise), Baubles, Bangles, And Beads, I Am A Gardener, Stranger in Paradise, Gesticulate, Bored, Fate, Night Of My Nights, The Olive Tree, Rahadlakum, Marsinah Arrives At Castle/I'm In Love/Certain...., And This Is My Beloved, Innocent Amusement (Medley: And This Is My....., and Diwan Dances

Sheet Music

"And This is My Beloved" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Kismet Vocal ScoreKismet (Vocal Score) from Amazon.com

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