BWW Review: Marin Mazzie and Daniel Dae Kim Bring New Luster to THE KING AND I
When the beloved British star Gertrude Lawrence originated the role of Anna in the 1951 Broadway premiere of The King and I, she was a 52-year-old star cast opposite a lesser-known Yul Brynner; a sexy young buck of thirty.
While Marin Mazzie is only eight years the senior of Daniel Dae Kim as they enter director Bartlett Sher's hit Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, the portrayals by the musical's two new stars represent a sharp change in dynamics from when the production opened in April of 2015 with the younger Kelli O'Hara teamed with middle-aged Ken Watanabe. With new casting comes new textures, making this lavish mounting worth another visit.
Based on Margaret Landon's novel, "Anna and the King of Siam," which was inspired by the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, the musical depicts Siam's 19th Century King Mongkut as a dominating ruler who, nevertheless, realizes he must adopt more progressive ideas in order to keep his country safe from colonization by powerful western nations. To that end he contracts the services of a widowed British schoolteacher to teach his children and wives the English language and western culture.
The authority of a ruler, the importance of a promise, the education of women and the contrast of science over traditional beliefs are among the issues that cause tension between the two headstrong protagonists, but there's also an intended subtext of mutual admiration and attraction which comes to an unspoken climax in the musical's joyous and hesitantly sexual 11 o'clocker, "Shall We Dance?"
When reviewed over a year ago, Wantanabe's over-the-top physicality and exaggerated facial expressions made his Mongkut resemble a wining adolescent more than an imposing leader and O'Hara's reactions to him were more of eye-rolling frustration and occasional amusement rather than attraction.
Kim's King, however, is a sleeker, more emotionally mature model; the kind of ruler who commands with subtle glances rather than loud threats. His frustration at not being able to control Anna, as he does with everyone else in Siam, is kept in check at first, and slowly grows from exasperation to admiration. By the second act Kim's King seems to enjoy having a woman around who he can consider his equal and worthy of his trust, which makes what he considers to be her betrayal a more devastating blow.
From start to finish, Mazzie is a perfect fit for Anna, playing her with a dignified nobility and a nurturing warmth. Her elegant voice and knowing way with a lyric caresses the bittersweet waltz, "Hello Young Lovers," and her knack for high comedy is deliciously displayed in the wry soliloquy "Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?"
She caps it off with a devastating scene late in the second act, when she gives the impression that Anna has developed romantic feelings for this "civilized" ruler that she created out of what once was a "barbarian," only to quickly learn that she has fooled herself.
Most of the major supporting players from the production's opening remain, including Tony-winner Ruthie Ann Miles, as the King's favored wife, Lady Thiang. Conrad Ricamora sings his ballads well but is stuck playing one of Oscar Hammerstein's most underwritten secondary romantic leads. Ashley Park's performance as Tuptim has developed into one that truly stands out, playing a young woman who has been delivered to the King as a sex slave, but who wishes to educate herself and plots to run off with the man she loves.
With its full orchestra and beautiful designs, Lincoln Center's The King and I still dazzles the eyes and ears, but now the text is being explored to its fuller dramatic potential.