BWW Review: THE KING AND I: Still Something Wonderful
The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Based upon the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon; Directed by Bartlett Sher; Choreographer, Christopher Gattelli, Based on the Original Choreography by Jerome Robbins; Music Supervisor, Ted Sperling; Sets, Michael Yearn; Costumes, Catherine Zuber; Lighting, Donald Holder; Sound, Scott Lehrer; Music Conductor, Gerald Steichen; Production Stage Manager, Paige Grant
CAST: Laura Michelle Kelly, Jose Llana, Joan Almedilla, Brian Rivera, Manna Nichols, Kavin Panmeechao, Anthony Chan, Graham Montgomery, Baylen Thomas, Darren Lee, Rylie Sickles, Stephanie Lo, Jeoffrey Watson, Mindy Lai, Yuki Ozeki, Amaya Braganza, LaMae Caparas, Michelle Liu Coughlin, Nicole Ferguson, Marie Gutierrez, Q Lim, Michio Takemasa, Andrew Cheng, Daniel J. Edwards, Michael Lomeka, Nobutaka Mochimaru, Rommel Pierre O'Choa, Sam Simahk, Jaden D. Amistad, Kayla Paige Amistad, Adriana Braganza, Noah Toledo, CJ Uy, Heather Botts, Marcus Shane, Rhyees Stump, Kelli Youngman
Performances through April 23 as part of the Lexus Broadway In Boston Season at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com
The national tour of the Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I has arrived at the Boston Opera House, with its parade of adorable children, a pair of star-crossed lovers, an imperial ruler, and a strong-willed, warm-hearted educator on board. One of the grande dames of the 1950s, The King and I retains its exalted place in the R & H pantheon, thanks to the artistry of Director Bartlett Sher, a songbird by the name of Laura Michelle Kelly, and a flawed King of Siam for our times, Jose Llana. The exemplary road company does credit to the 2015 Best Revival of a Musical and will leave you whistling a happy tune.
Unlike Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (1949), which was not revived on Broadway until 2008, The King and I has had nearly a dozen productions since it first opened in 1951 at the St. James Theatre. Subsequently, it has been staged in the West End (four times), toured in both the United States and the U.K., and has been back on Broadway four times. Regardless of the number of iterations and the lengthy list of actors who have played the title role, the figure of Yul Brynner looms large as the iconic King. Having played the part for two engagements at LCT, Llana seems unfazed by the challenge and puts his imprimatur on the character. He is less physically imposing, but conveys an air of confidence and power with his erect posture and steely gaze. At the same time, the inner man of Llana's King is on view and accessible, showing his vulnerability and more of his softer qualities.
Based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, a fictionalized account of the story of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens who was hired by the King of Siam to act as governess and teacher to his many children, the musical was adapted by R & H as a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence. Set in 1860s Bangkok, the focus is on the tempestuous relationship between the two headstrong principals as they learn to coexist in a changing world. Interested in modernizing his country and sensitive to how he is viewed in the West, the King reluctantly accepts advice and counsel from Anna (a woman!), even as she strives to understand the local customs and the pressures he is under. Kralahome (Brian Rivera), the King's minister, and Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla, a force), the number one royal wife, are quiet powers behind the throne, and the latter proves to be a key ally for Anna, as well.
While feelings between the King and Anna are complicated, a doomed love story plays out between the slave girl Tuptim (lovely Manna Nichols), a gift to the King from the king of Burma, and Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), the emissary who escorts the young woman to Siam. When a British dignitary (Baylen Thomas) visits to evaluate the country, the wives perform Tuptim's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a Siamese ballet/play entitled "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," with heavy negative emphasis on the theme of slavery. However, the evening is a success and Anna and the King celebrate with a joyful polka ("Shall We Dance") before things turn dark in the palace.
The acting and singing are stellar from stem to stern in this ensemble, but the success of the show obviously turns on the two leads. Having sung the praises of Llana, let me now sing some about Kelly. Her lovely, clear voice (and crisp whistle) begins the musical numbers on a high note, capturing the right tone as Anna explains her way of dealing with fear to her young son Louis (Graham Montgomery). She is somehow able to alter the quality of her voice for the message in each song, from the wistful memories in "Hello, Young Lovers," to the warmth and affection in "Getting to Know You," to the edgy and sardonic attitude of "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" However, the pièce de résistance is the joy Kelly displays (and we feel) when the first notes of "Shall We Dance" hang in the air, and she gathers up the folds of her voluminous skirt before taking off in the arms of her co-star to twirl around the stage with abandon and panache. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.
The National Tour launched in November in Providence, Rhode Island, and presently has scheduled dates through April, 2018, in various cities around the country. Director Sher, choreographer Christopher Gattelli, music supervisor Ted Sperling, and the design team - Michael Yeargan (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting), Scott Lehrer (sound) - are bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were, recreating the beauty of the Lincoln Center production. Thanks to the talents of Llana, Kelly, et al, The King and I continues to be "Something Wonderful."