We arrived at our apartment near Trafalgar Square (gosh, sounds great,doesn't it? It's FOUR minutes walk to the ENO!) as late as midnight, because Heathrow was mayhem. In theory we wanted to try and be at the Coliseum to see him leave after the dress reharsal, seeing our flights were due to arrive at 8:45 pm...
apart from such little glitches like Kerstin's flight being cancelled a few hours before take-off and she had to be booked on another one, it all went really smoothly. Until we found ourselves in the baggage reclaim area of Heathrow airport and had to wait an hour (!) to retrieve our luggage. Others had given up and hundreds of suitcases were lying about...it was madness. Anyway, Bunny Julia's flight was late and with the time we spent waiting for the luggage...it was midnight until we arrived in London properly. So no Michael, no chatting to fellow fans about how the dress rehearsal went etc.
But never mind, you get used to the hazards of travelling to see a Michael Ball event...First thing today was to walk to the ENO to collect our tickets for press night...and buy some really cheap ones up in the gods for tonight. We didn't plan to do that, but well, we are never as detached as we imagine us to be. We took our first walk around the building to locate the stage door and see whether there were any fans already waiting for the man. Nope, no one. Okay so, we checked out the Shaftesbury Theatre (and stage door) in preparation for Hairspray and then kept returning to the stage door of the Coliseum roughly every thirty minutes (by chance! Yeah right...).
Finally we saw two other fans waiting and joined them. It's safe to say all four of us were relieved not to be the only ones there. We chatted for a bit and eventually two more fans turned up. It was about 2 pm and all we knew was that he hadn't singed himself in yet. Suddenly Andrew appeared. Bunny Julia asked him straight away, if seeing him was a good or a bad sign (in a tour it can be a REALLY bad sign when the PA is already in!). He smiled (pityful? LOL) and told us, no not a bad sign, Michael isn't in yet but was around and would be there in a moment. We were still busy chatting to Andrew when we turned some two minutes later and there he was: Michael walked down the street, smiling, looking GORGEOUS in a pinstriped suit and light pinkt shirt. He greeted us all and asked how we liked the beard. We were in complete shock. Afterall ot was still only SIX of us there. We told him it was so different but gorgeous, which he seemed to like. He mentioned how proud he was that there was not a single grey hair in his beard. We checked, it's true! He remakred he thought he looked rather rogue-ish with the beard. Veeeery true. It felt unappropriate to get the camcorder out, but seeing we all had our photocameras in hand, everyone took one or two pictures while chatting.
We did ask about his new dog. He confirmed he had one, it's black and white and called Ollie (no idea about the spelling though, we shouldn't make investigative journalism our day job). He then said he'd better get in and reahearse. Naturally we didn't object as we all felt we had our fair share of him and frankly were too shaky to continue talking anways....!
You should have heard us six once he was inside...squeals of delight. We are sure he enjoyed those and had a good laugh.
We had dinner and returned to our hotel which has free internet,too! We've only just discovered that now. So here are the photos from this afternoon. We'll get back to you after tonight's preview.
After the glorious stage door experience (it's now three days later and we are still on a high!), we were in the best possible mood to see Kismet. To be completely honest with you, we were not entirely sure what to expect. We had heard a bit of the music and were sceptical. It's melodic, but not easy. It must be enormously difficult to sing! And we were equally unsure about the theme…the beard…okay, so now this isn't the most important thing about whether you are happy spending 82 £ on a night out or not, we can accept that the facial hair of the main character is not vital. But we have established already that we did like the beard in the flesh…or on the flesh to be more precise. So now we were curious what kind of a show they had in store for us.
The venue is amazing. It feels like being in it was worth half the ticket price. We have seen our fair share of theatre in the past few years but none equalled this in its glory. Red, gold, lions, lights, big velvet curtain…it was the perfect theatre experience. For our first night we had bought day seats and were up in the gods. But that was ideal to get an idea about the scenes as a whole.
The sets are minimalist. HUGE but not very decorated or looking explicitly oriental. At first this was a bit of a disappointment. Too vivid the memory of Chitty and the vast sets of the Sweet Factory. The dominant colour was red. And it opens as merely a stair in the middle of the stage leading up to an archway. Mind you the stage is really big so these sets were stunning concerning size and in the dominance of the colour red. But the lack of lavish oriental ornament when you expect to see the grandeur of all those Arabian Nights movies can be a minor shock. Another modern approach is to have three princesses from a neighbouring (fictional) country dressed not in anything similar to the other costumes which were simple but indeed oriental, but in very short black leather costumes. It matched their energetic and aggressive attitude though.
Once we had accepted that we were not to see our wildest dreams about cushions, veils, gold, bright colours, Taj-Mahal-gone-Disney-Land come true, we actually really enjoyed every second of it. The sets allowed the actors to be the centre of all attention. Also the set for the garden scene was ever so clever. It's mainly a gigantic round whole in the red background. It is used to frame the actors behind it, like a frame to a moving photograph. You know you they are in a garden, because the frame is made of blossoms, roses and fruits. Indicating flower beds, twines and fruit trees.
Hum, on reading the last passage again, I have to apologise, it will not make much sense if you haven't seen the show. But that was done deliberately to make you all go and see it for yourselves of course, it's nothing to do with lack of vocabulary of your reviewer...ahem…
Having established that we liked the set, let's now come to what Kismet is really about.
Quite simple really. LOL So here goes:
Kismet is set in one day (and one morning). We follow Michael's character, a poet in ancient Baghdad, who tries to earn his and his grown-up daughter's living by selling poems to people walking by. That's not a very profitable business as you can imagine. So when the opportunity arises he assumes the identity of Hadjj the beggar (more profitable by far).
It turns out that said beggar once cursed the evil Jawan who then lost his son and now, as he feels death approaching, searches for Hadjj the beggar to remove the curse and retrieve the missing son. Our poet has no idea about all that but seeing Jawan will have him killed if he doesn't cooperate, he claims to have those magical powers and promises him (for an adequate sum) that Jawan will find his son this very day. The Poet is allowed to live and rewarded with a small fortune. Most of this he gives to his daughter (Marsinah), so she can buy all that her heart desires. While she does so on her own, the Caliph sees her and falls in love with her on the very first sight. He is dressed like an ordinary man, despite being the most powerful man in the country, the head of state. He follows Marsinah into the garden of a house she wants to buy and she falls in love with him, too (awww, bless).
While the life of his daughter takes this massive turn, our poet enjoys a bit of TLC by his newly bought slaves (three ladies) when he is mistakenly arrested for a crime he didn't commit and brought in front of the court of the Wazir of Baghdad. A Wazir is the (political) advisor of the Caliph, so he is the second man in the state. Sadly this one isn't exactly sweet-tempered and orders the Poet's hand to be cut off for being a thieve. Luckily for our hero the cunning wife of the Wazir likes his looks and sets her mind on getting him out of there in one piece…she seems to be able to imagine more enjoyable uses for his right hand than it being cut off just like that.
The court case is still going strong when it's interrupted by the head of police with the news that the infamous murderer and thief Jawan has finally been caught. They bring him in and he identifies the Poet as the man who claimed to be a wizard and whom had promised him that he'd find his long lost sun on this very day. Things do not exactly look rosy until Jawan sees the Wazir is wearing an amulet he had given him when he was still a child. He has found his son!
The Wazir now believes in the Poet's magical abilities and decides a man like this will be very useful when he is on his side. He commands his wife to keep him entertained. She doesn't need to be told twice, as she is quite keen on having the handsome poet to herself. She knows perfectly well he is no wizard, but if it serves the purpose of keeping him in the palace, so be it.
The Wazir is in desperate need for money, so he wants the Caliph to marry the three princesses of a neighbouring country to seal a deal with their father. He urges the The Poet-cum-Beggar-cum-Wizard to prevent this marriage and as a reward he will make him an Emir (a high ranking noble man). The Poet accepts and hopes that the young lovers will fall out eventually. He has absolutely no idea that the future happiness of his daughter is at stake. The Wazir threatens to execute him should the Caliph indeed marry this mystery girl he met on the street.
Things get more and more complicated by the minute but in the last scene the Poet manages to unite Marisnah and the Caliph (by actually killing the Wazir, who had meanwhile faked a marriage to Marsinah so the Caliph cannot have her and wanted to poison her the next night so that she cannot reveal the truth) and is in turn allowed to spend the rest of his days with the Wazir's merry widow Lalume. All's well that ends well.
Any questions? Yes, well…for more details you will have to see the actual play. It does make perfect sense.
Now as you can gather from the above summery, this is a very fast paced piece. They have to get quite a lot of story in 2.5 hours. We were amazed at the witty lyrics and puns, it must have been quite a task to learn all that by heart AND deliver it so that it's funny yet convincing. We already know that Michael is a master of comic timing. This play really lets him shine and had us in stitches from beginning to end.
And then there is this scene in the harem with Michael surrounded by willing belly dancers…oh boy, the room temperature rose by several degrees!
Apart from being quite a challenge singing-wise, it is also a very physical role, he is in action for the full 2.5 hours it seems. Dancing, singing, laughing…it's such a joy to watch!
The two juvenile leads have beautiful voices. Especially Sara Tynan as Marsinah impressed us greatly. A great voice for someone so young.
Faith Prince makes it quite obvious that she could eat Michael with a spoon, which made it easy for us to like her.
All in all we are now sad we will only be seeing 5 performances (initially we only booked for three, now we have upgraded!) of what is a great night out and lots of fun.
The Stage Door afterwards
As we stood there chatting to fellow fans we saw Michael's dad Tony walking past and said our hellos. He's always so charming and attentive. You can see where Michael's got it all from. Michael came out not too much later with Faith Prince in tow and remarked how she snogged him for real! To which she replied: “And I can tell you all, he is very good at it!” Rub it in…! He then asked whether we all liked it. But of course we had! “Then show it. Don't be intimidated by it being an opera house.” He apparently promised the rest of the cast his fans would be proactive and now we were all being well-behaved and merely clapping a bit louder for him. At least he did get extra applause when he first appeared on stage. But we all promised to be better the next night and to make lots of noise at the Opening Night.
Happily we walked the 5 minutes back to our hotel and were humming all those melodies (hopelessly out of tune, as it's a very difficult tune, all of them!), looking very much forward to the Press Night (plus Michael's birthday , Justy's birthday and the change from Blair to Brown – whatever this may have to do with Kismet…).