BWW Reviews: THE KING AND I at Zach Theatre is a Sumptuous, Opulent Production of an American Musical Theatre Classic
Rodgers & Hammerstein are, to me, the comfort food of musical theatre. Of all their shows, THE KING AND I holds up the best some 65 years on. It avoids the saccharine sweetness and didactic qualities of some of their other works. The musical is based on the 1944 novel 'Anna and the King of Siam' by Margaret Landon, which was derived from Anna Leonowens memoirs of her time as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860's. The musical tells the story of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King's drive to modernize his country. Their relationship is marked by conflict as well as by a love that neither can admit to. Premiering on March 29 in 1951, THE KING AND I ran nearly three years, and, at the time, was the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history.
I am happy to report that the production now playing at Zach Theatre is an opulent, sumptuous charmer. This is an evening of theatre that impresses from the moment you walk into the theatre and never lets you down.
What first impresses you is a gorgeous batik scrim done in oranges and reds that perfectly sets the stage for the evening. Kenneth Roy's sets for this production are beautiful and he carries that batik motif throughout the production. Most of the set is on the theatre's fly system, which makes for seamless scene transitions that move the show along with a great fluidity. Also worth mentioning are several large statues that are eye popping in their size and grandeur.
Abe Reybold's direction is excellent, especially during transitional moments. Greg Zane's choreography is superb throughout... his work in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" alone is a knock out. Alison Heryer's costumes are simply stunning. The technical aspects of this production are all handled with obvious respect for the material.
The casting here is spot on, from the leads down to the adorable children of the King. The biggest obstacle that anyone doing THE KING AND I faces is the long shadow of Yul Brynner, who created the role in 1951 and continued to play the part onstage at regular intervals until his death in 1985. Mel Maghuyop manages to give us a new take on this king, and mines fresh new laughs with his delivery. His is a king who is both petulant and childish, which makes his moments of anger absolutely frightening by contrast. Jill Blackwood's Anna is charming and wise and there is definite chemistry between her and Mr. Maghuyop. Yoonjeong Seong, as Tuptim, possesses a beautiful singing voice as does Jason Yau, as Lun Tha, her lover. Their duets are highlights of the evening. The dancers in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (Autumn Ogawa, Nobutaka Mochimaru, Larissa Buglewicz, Tasha Anslyn, Yuki Ozeki and Alaina Maderal) all do a beautiful job with the show's big dance number.
Do yourself a favor and take the time to see this production of THE KING AND I. This is one of the classics of American musical theatre done right.
THE KING AND I by Rodgers & Hammerstein
Running time: Three hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
THE KING AND I, produced by Zach Theatre playing in The Topher Theatre (202 South Lamar Blvd.) September 17-October 18, 2014. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 pm. Sundays at 2:30 PM. Tickets start at $25. Reservations: http://tickets.zachtheatre.org/