My love of Broadway musicals, also thanks to a family outing, began at a 1965 revival of Kismet at Lincoln Center. This winner of several 1954 Tony® Awards, including Outstanding Musical, enchanted me with its exotic recreation of old Baghdad (1071 CE) enlivened by the glorious music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) adapted by Robert Wright and George Forrest at the suggestion of Vernon Duke. In later years, memories of that enchanting evening inspired me to search out the Borodin works on which its music was based, a listing of which you can find on Wikipedia should you find yourself similarly inspired.
The colorful, humorous, romantic musical adaptations matched well with the story of a rascal of a poet, Hajj, who marries his beautiful daughter off to the young caliph and outwits the wicked Wazir at every turn. Alfred Drake, star of many Broadway musicals including the original Oklahoma, won a Tony Award as Distinguished Musical Actor for making the role of Hajj his own. Drake also starred in the 1965 revival but was unfortunately out ill the night we were there, greatly disappointing me even as a twelve-year old, as I missed hearing this legend sing in person.
Many of its songs became hits of radio, LP, and sheet music, including “Stranger in Paradise,” “And This Is My Beloved,” and “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.” While in college, whenever I was feeling a bit low, I would put on my LP of the original Broadway cast recording, eventually wearing out the vinyl (but never the patience of my roommates, who also fell in love with the music). The pulse of life flowing through the music never failed to cheer me. This was especially true of “Night of My Nights,” sung by the young Caliph … smitten by and in love with Marsinah, Hajj’s daughter. In it the Caliph instructs his musicians to “Fashion songs of delight and delicious desire / For the night of my nights,” which they most delightfully do. A bit of delicious Broadway trivia: which two young actors from Kismet shared the stage as leads in a blockbuster musical that opened the year I saw this revival? Richard Kiley, our original Caliph in 1954, conquered windmills and our hearts as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha in 1965, singing of his love for Dulcinea (Aldonza), played by Joan Diener, the seductive Lalume, wife-of-wives of the Wazir in the original Kismet with Kiley.
It is Kiley’s exuberant, joy-filled original cast album rendition of “Night of My Nights” (based on Borodin’s Serenade from his Petite Suite) that I share with you today in the hopes that it buoys your spirits as much as it always does mine. Be patient and stick with its orchestral introduction before Kiley comes in … worthy of savoring in its own right, as is the lovely high pianissimo ending floated by Kiley.