BWW Review: THE KING AND I is Still 'Something Wonderful'
While audiences may recall the 1951 Tony Award Winning performances of Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence and the 1956 musical to movie again starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, this production proudly honors that same glorious tradition. Under the direction of Bartlett Sher this touring production still captures the WOW factor with an outstanding cast. The buzz has been that "this is a production Rodgers and Hammerstein would be proud of" cannot be denied. Laura Michelle Kelly simply delights as Anna Leonowens. From the moment the huge ship pulls into the docks of Bangkok, this Anna is simply winning with a natural sense of the character. Her soaring vocals are clear as a bell with perfect diction.
Jose Llana portrays the king very differently than some who have graced the stage in this iconic role. Llana is stubbornly starchy and often displays a sense of impatience with his new young teacher yet reluctantly gives in to her wishes with a sense of comedic annoyance...really for almost everyone he comes in contact with. He is a most entertaining "king" and his rapport with Anna is fiery and fun. Joan Almedilla plays the head wife Lady Thaing quite royally though I have heard stronger renditions of "Something Wonderful". The two fated lovers Tuptim (Manna Nichols) and Lun Tha (Anthony Chan) are lovely to look at together. Nicohls is breathtaking and her vocals soar splendidly, however Chan seems to hold back just a bit.
Nonetheless, every Rodger's and Hammerstein song is a recognizable hit - "Getting to Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello Young Lovers," "We Kiss in a Shadow," "Shall we Dance" and the audience applauds them most approvingly.
From the Royal Wives and Dancers to the Royal Children the cast could not be more delightful. Tuptim's production of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is a delight, though the staging for this seems more compact than necessary seeing the Academy stage is quite large. Costumes by Catherine Zuber are stunning. Sets by Michael Yeargan are fairly minimal with the exception of the boat docking set. The king's palace lacks a regal look with an overdose of tall columns in several scenes. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli is based on the original choreography Jerome Robbins and works wonderfully with this energetic cast.
THE KING AND I plays at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia through April 2nd. For ticket and information visit www.kimmelcenter.org
Photos: The King and I touring production