Review Roundup: THE KING AND I Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Lincoln Center Theater presents Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I, led by Kelli O'Hara (as Anna Leonowens) and Ken Watanabe (as the King of Siam), directed by Bartlett Sher. The production opens tonight, April 16, 2015 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (150 West 65 Street).
Also in the cast are Ruthie Ann Miles (as Lady Thiang), Ashley Park (as Tuptim), Conrad Ricamora (as Lun Tha), Edward Baker-Duly (as Sir Edward Ramsey), Jon Viktor Corpuz (as Prince Chulalongkorn), Murphy Guyer (as Captain Orton), Jake Lucas (as Louis), Paul Nakauchi (as Kralahome), and Marc Oka (as Phra Alack).
One of Rodgers & Hammerstein's finest works, The King and I boasts a score which features such beloved classics as "Getting To Know You", "Hello Young Lovers", "Shall We Dance", "I Have Dreamed", and "Something Wonderful". Set in 1860s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher, whom the imperious King brings to Siam to tutor his many wives and children.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Mr. Sher...understands very well what makes the show work, and he delivers it clean-scrubbed and naked, allowing us to see "The King and I" plain...its most impressive achievement is how it balances epic sweep with intimate sensibility...That Ms. O'Hara, one of our greatest reinterpreters of musical standards, does so is not surprising. (You'll feel you're hearing "Hello, Young Lovers" for the first time.) But also give full marks to the first-rate Ruthie Ann Miles...who, as the King's chief wife, turns "Something Wonderful" into an exquisite expression of romantic realism that could be the show's anthem. The person she's singing about with such fond ambivalence...is the King himself, embodied here by Mr. Watanabe with the convincing exasperation of a majesty under siege...his big solos, while attacked with ardor, should become even stronger as his pronunciation improves. But he sure comes across when it really counts...As played by Ms. O'Hara, [Anna's] a smart, scrappy, willful pragmatist who also happens to know that love is often as strange as it is undeniable. That knowledge infuses every note Ms. O'Hara sings, and it is something wonderful indeed.
Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: There's an opulent, almost operatic feel to this production...Five-time Tony Award-nominated O'Hara...gives a warm, loving persona to young widow Anna Leonowens, who must navigate sexism and cultural differences to get along with the capricious king...O'Hara is perfectly suited to her role as a prideful Englishwoman, and sings rapturously throughout the show, especially on her poignant renditions of "Hello, Young Lovers." Watanabe...delivers a layered performance despite some difficulties enunciating English...His king is, by turns, mischievous and morose, and generally commanding except for some distractingly childish moments...Watanabe is quite natural in the role, and creates a pleasing chemistry with O'Hara as their characters establish a friendship despite obstacles...If you can accept the king's personality quirks, this production of "The King and I" is definitely something wonderful.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The mutual fascination and eternal struggle for understanding across the cultural divide between East and West is played out on a magnificent scale in Lincoln Center Theater's breathtaking revival of The King and I. As he did with the company's transcendent South Pacific seven years ago, director Bartlett Sher banishes even the faintest trace of mid-century quaintness or patronizing exoticism from the material, treating the 1951 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic with unimpeachable dramatic integrity and emotional authenticity that are equaled by this landmark production's exquisite musicianship and vocals. As for the superlative leads, Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe, to say they are outstanding seems almost unfair given the uniform excellence of the massive ensemble.
David Cote, Time Out NY: ...in a year of bland nostalgic revivals, this grand and glorious production gives you hope in the nonprofit stewardship of our theatrical heritage...let's be frank: Although Hammerstein's characterization of the King has pain and pathos in addition to comic bluster, he speaks a pidgin English that few actors can pull off today. Luckily, the Japanese Watanabe shows a man struggling with a foreign tongue. (His accent can be thick, but that adds authenticity.) The 55-year-old Watanabe also cuts an older figure than Lou Diamond Phillips did in the 1996 revival, which adds gravitas as well as humor to his outbursts and temper tantrums. O'Hara sounds angelic as ever...her silky, shimmering soprano a treasure -- and the role plays to her strengths: wryness, warmth and quiet dignity. Sher directs her and the rest of an exceptionally good cast...with palpable respect for the material and a care to avoid orientalist humbug.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Director Bartlett Sher's sweepingly romantic production aches with deep, unforced understanding of the story's East/West cultural divide while luxuriating in the sumptuous pleasures of the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic...the king himself is now powerfully inhabited by Ken Watanabe...Contrary to rumored problems with his pronunciation, every word is as clear as the impact behind it. The coupling of the actor with O'Hara as the English schoolteacher is inspired -- full of aching attraction and the impossible tension of smart, beautiful people from different worlds. O'Hara, with her silvery pinpoint vocal precision and her natural empathy, creates an Anna of fierce, caring intelligence. Watanabe, who shaved his head but is nothing like Brynner, is imposingly tall, masculine yet enormously vulnerable as the ruler of an isolated, male-dominated world and whose doubts about modernization eventually break both their hearts...How good to be getting to know the show all over again.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: There are moments in Lincoln Center Theater's ravishing new Broadway production of The King and I (***½ out of four) that may leave you grinning so hard your face will hurt. Then suddenly, without warning, you'll be fighting off tears...The one element missing from this new revival is a rock-solid leading man. Making his Broadway debut as the King of Siam, Japanese film star Ken Watanabe doesn't yet hold the stage with complete confidence, or enunciate all of his lines clearly. But his performance is brave, underlining the character's hidden vulnerability, and at times disarmingly playful. Sparring with and teasing Anna, his King can convey an almost childlike sense of mischief, and wonder. O'Hara complements and supports her co-star with a study in effortless poise, singing and acting with gorgeous subtlety. There is nothing forced or strident about this Anna; when she stands up to the King -- defying his attitudes about women, and his apparent need to demean his subjects -- her indignation is made more powerful by her sustained grace.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: O'Hara's Anna is fiercely determined, if cautious as a newcomer, and it's thrilling to watch her negotiate the pitfalls involved in establishing herself at court...It's hard not to be moved as O'Hara describes the beauty of a snowflake after the blissful "Getting to Know You" sequence. O'Hara's voice is in prime operatic form throughout, rivaled only by her ability to waltz in Catherine Zuber's lavish, flowing gowns. I had mixed feelings about Watanabe's performance...Watanabe's got the imperiousness down pat, but he's falling back on enough of his Japanese accent that it makes some of his line readings difficult to parse...It's not a fatal flaw, whatever you've read in the chat rooms. And anyway, I could watch these two perform "Shall We Dance?" all night long..."The King and I" requires a regal, charismatic leading lady, and in O'Hara, it has one who's just about perfect.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: I doubt I'll see a better production of "The King and I" in my lifetime. Mr. Watanabe gets out from Brynner's long shadow by giving a performance that is gleefully playful, regally commanding and wholly his own...Kelli O'Hara leaves nothing whatsoever to be desired as Anna. Firm but not priggish, touching but never sentimental, she stands up to Mr. Watanabe like a redwood to a tornado...The supporting cast is sterling, and Mr. Sher's detailed character work repays close study: Every part, right down to the smallest of the children, is endowed with strong and clear individuality...Ted Sperling's 28-piece pit band plays Robert Russell Bennett's original 1951 orchestrations, which glitter and shine. Indeed, I'm not sure I've ever heard a Broadway score played in the theater with such finesse.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: As scenery and the stage floor glide, it's as though the audience is pulled along with Anna toward the gleaming palace and a new life. We're there with her. And just like that, this splendid revival emerges as majestic and intimate simultaneously...O'Hara more than delivers in her sterling star turn. She conveys Anna's feistiness and fair-mindedness in her acting and silky singing...You believe that Anna knows of romance when she sings "Hello, Young Lovers"...Japanese star Ken Watanabe...gives O'Hara plenty to play off as the proud Siamese monarch...Watanabe's appealing take is looser and lighter. His English is a work in progress, so sometimes his lines and lyrics are blurry. It sort of works for a story of cultural collisions and changing times. O'Hara and Watanabe share warm chemistry, and when Anna and the king clasp each other tight for the joyous "Shall We Dance?" no words are needed.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: You can't overstate how stunningly beautiful, how achingly well sung this new revival of "The King and I" is...Kelli O'Hara...gives yet another finely calibrated performance as the "I" of the title. Her warm, occasionally bemused poise makes her a fine fit for Anna Leonowens...The music is simply divine. The cast appears to be just as transported as we are, their voices ringing with heartfelt emotion. And yet we're one element short of perfection -- and that's the king. Watanabe...cuts an imposing figure but plays the ruler broadly, overemphasizing a comic petulance that leaves little room for stately gravitas...There's not even a hint of a romantic spark with Anna...But so strong is the rest of this show that, even with a relatively weak performance by the king, you're still getting the royal treatment.
Matt Windman, AM New York: "The King and I" holds up incredibly well as a piece of drama. The songs are beautiful, the characters are complex and its themes of democratization, cultural miscommunication and gender inequality are timely. Sher's production, which features a 51-member cast and a 29-piece orchestra, is generally impressive and satisfying...It is very difficult to understand what Watanabe is saying. He has an imposing presence and highly theatrical spirit, but his diction stops the show in its tracks. O'Hara, one of the finest actresses working in musical theater today, delivers a fine, sympathetic performance as the staunch Anna, but it is hardly as captivating as her sexy Nellie. The standout of the production is Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang, the King's chief wife, who understands him better than anyone else.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Now comes The King And I, in one of the most elegantly beautiful and beautifully sung productions I've ever seen, and the Beaumont looks like a living treasure chest for a director with the right vision and a company that can command a vast space and make it feel like your living room...Sher and his collaborator in dance Christopher Gattelli honor the originators of these shows while breathing fresh life into them...O'Hara is supremely comfortable in these R&H roles of independent-minded women in extraordinary predicaments, whether Ensign Nellie Forbush or Anna Leonowens. Her singing seems effortless and her Anna is determined yet tender...Watanabe...is strong, sexy and bewildered in a role forever owned by Yul Brynner. It takes a long time for this King and Anna to generate real electricity, but when it comes, in "Shall We Dance?" it's shiver-inducing.
Jesse Green, Vulture: ...the revival that opened tonight...is too beautiful to miss...Sher's production is the frankest, and sexiest, I've ever seen. It is also the saddest...The degree to which you want the characters to acknowledge and act on their attraction is a bit of a shock, considering the personal and cultural implications...It takes extraordinary acting and singing to build and sustain such moments. No surprise that O'Hara handles the singing easily; she has perhaps the most naturally beautiful voice on Broadway. But Anna also gives her the opportunity to dispense with the niceness that has sometimes threatened to flatten her stage persona. She has a terrific sparring partner in Watanabe...Though he's occasionally unintelligible, I never failed to understand him, and his conception of the king as a complicated blend of spoiled teenager and spiritual striver made a more convincing case for him than I've previously experienced.
Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly: If this production has put the romantic passion of the tale on a bit of simmer, it has boosted the overall theme of intersocietal behavior and respect. "Getting to Know You", for example, has never seemed more relevant to the score. In this production, it's not a mere classroom charm-song one-off, but an outward reflection of the uneasy feelings the characters are struggling with in that moment...The gender politics involving Anna, Lady Thiang and Tuptim also feel deeply resonant here. Without hammering away at the point too impulsively, Sher's intents seem to sway the story back to a uniquely feminist state of mind...Watanabe is a charismatic and relatively subdued King, but often very hard to decipher; his big number "A Puzzlement" ends up being just that. Strangely though, the latter's surface debit sometimes works to some advantage--after all, the King is a man struggling with the ability to fully connect to others. O'Hara could bring out the romantic swoon in just about any male costar, and Anna is another triumph in her winsome recent gallery of fine portrayals. (And hearing her luscious soprano on beauties like "Hello, Young Lovers" is like finding a precious gift inside a jewel box.)
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: ...Sher once again reveals the musical's own enormous qualities without imposing an arbitrary interpretation...right from the opening of "The King and I," we know we're in the same confident hands when the glorious Kelli O'Hara takes the stage...In fact, if anything in this revival shakes up our preconceptions of "The King and I," it's that Anna must undergo almost as much re-education as the king (Ken Watanabe). Plus, O'Hara's Anna is nearly as headstrong as he...Watanabe doesn't dominate the show like Brynner. He's regal, but he's also far more vulnerable, and as performed here, he wills his own death, almost as if a suicide. Seven years, it's too long to wait for another reunion of Rodgers and Hammerstein, LTC, and Sher.
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: In a day and age when producers, directors and author's executors think nothing of imposing their so-called artistic vision on Broadway masterworks that were pretty good to begin with, it is heartening to see producers, directors and executors just do the show as written...The production has the epic sweep that the authors intended, along with all those songs. Mr. Sher and his leading players also investigate undercurrents of romance and physical attraction which were not evident in the original production...Sher enhances these undercurrents, and has his actors act on them...That this works so well--and adds an additional color to the tapestry of the show--is due in part to the acting. Ms. O'Hara seems to have been born to play musical theatre heroines like Anna, Nellie Forbush and Julie Jordan; if only people were still writing such roles. Her Anna is young and hot-blooded enough to respond to the emotion, although unable...to act on it. Ken Watanabe, meanwhile, proves to be a strong actor, and sparks fly.
Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger: Sher's vision subtly augments tradition, with lifelike details of the new world in which Anna Leonowens finds herself...As Anna, O'Hara is a terrific fit, with an exquisite, melting soprano as well as dignity and quick wit. Ken Watanabe...is a captivating actor, blazing-eyed and sharp as he portrays the virile character's single-mindedness, playful side and the childlike temper of one who has never been contradicted...Watanabe's diction could occasionally be clearer, his singing more confident and his bearing imbued with more gravity. For her part, although O'Hara builds a rich, likeable character, she does not sound quite as vocally lush as she did last season in "The Bridges of Madison County." Still, as they find their ideals in conflict, they make worthy adversaries, and also find real chemistry. Watanabe and O'Hara enchantingly convey the sparks of intelligence and will that bring their characters together...This remains a production in which all aspects have been satisfyingly thought out, and a work that stands the test of time.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: In its heart of hearts, the extraordinarily deep and often underutilized thrust stage of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater has probably always yearned to host an opera. That's pretty much what director Bartlett Sher has wrought with his sumptuous revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical, "The King and I." Broadway's darling, Kelli O'Hara, is ravishing as the English governess to the children in the royal household of the King of Siam, played by the powerfully seductive Japanese movie star Ken Watanabe. But the production itself, with its operatic sweep and opulent aesthetic, is the star of its own show.
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik