"Borodin Meets Runyon:" Musical "Kismet" Started as NYC Sewer Crapshoot

Funny story written by Ralph E. Shaffer

Thursday, 20 August 2020

image for "Borodin Meets Runyon:" Musical "Kismet" Started as NYC Sewer Crapshoot
A theater, earlier

THEATER DISTRICT, BROADWAY, NYC. The original script for the Broadway musical "Kismet" has been uncovered at the U of Michigan special collections library which houses the papers, opened for the first time last week, of the play's creators, Forrest and Wright.

The two composers/lyricists had a long and successful career turning classical music into Broadway musicals: "Song of Norway" and "Kismet" being their most well-known productions. While "Kismet" came late in their careers, the original script and music were actually composed at the beginning of their career under the title, "Borodin Meets Runyon".

The storyline was right out of Damon Runyon, but the plot was original: a pregnant wife - Ellie - pleads with her young husband, Rocky, not to participate in the crapshoot, but he goes anyway because he's convinced this is his night, with big money at stake. When Detective Hannigan's police raid the game, Rocky is the only one caught, tried and convicted.

Some of the original songs had the same titles as those that eventually were heard in "Kismet", though the lyrics were different. When Rocky heads out for the crapshoot, Ellie sings "Fate" while Rocky sings that this will be the "Night of his Nights".

Since you can't shoot dice without bagels, a bagel boy is sent out for refreshments, but drops them on the sewer floor as the disappointed gamblers threaten to beat him up, and sing, "Bobbles Bagels and Bleeds".

The game starts, and an old hand, looking out for the welfare of the novice Rocky, for whom this is his effort in the Big Time, sings some sound advice to the kid: "Watch the Hand of a Stranger with Pair O' Dice".

Other songs with Runyonesque lyrics: "The Olive Tree" was originally "Sewer Debris", "Not Since Nineveh" was first written as "Not Since Hannigan". "Sands of Time" was "Gamblers Come, Gamblers Go". And the great love song at the curtain, "And this is my Beloved", was originally "Rocky's Soliloquy" - "Game raided by vice, gamblers on their knees betting, exhibit A was one pair of dice, for this Is was indicted."

The few who have read the script and the song lyrics are convinced that the original was more intriguing than the blockbuster production that was actually produced, based on Arabian Nights. Why then, was it scrapped?

Forrest and Wright had submitted it to a Broadway producer, who rejected it without explanation. A short time later, that producer accepted Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls", with original music and a crapshoot storyline patterned after the fiction of Runyon. Forrest and Wright knew that Rudolf Friml had no grounds for a copyright suit when his version of "Kiss Me, Kate" was turned down and was soon followed by a musical of that same name composed by Cole Porter.

They simply changed their storyline to the Arabian Nights, and made a fortune.

The funny story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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