BWW REVIEW: THE KING AND I. Musical Theatre Heaven.
The Lincoln Center Theater Review Spring 2015 Issue 65: The King and I states that "Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I embodies theater's power to transform-both by drawing audiences into a time and place and by telling compelling stories that make us feel and think deeply about the world of the play and about our own world. A particular alchemy of creativity and vision is essential to achieving such a transformative act."
From the second lights dim and the shimmering and lush music, played by a 28-piece brilliant orchestra, is heard, we know we are in for something wonderful. As the white curtain billows and the amazingly crafted 19th-century ship glides forward onto the stage and towards us, we are transported to a magical realm of beauty, great art, and the transformative power of love. Love is evident in the commitment that burns brightly in every aspect of the show's contributors and in every performer, from the tiniest royal princess to the magnificent stars in this glorious revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's masterpiece.
The show is based on Anna and the King of Siam, a fictionalized biography by Margaret Landon of the real-life Anna Leonowens, who became the English governess to the royal children of King Mongkut of Siam in the 19th century. The real-life Anna wrote two memoirs of her experiences with King Monkut. In one, she wrote of giving a copy of Union Tom's Cabin to one of Monkut's royal concubines. It was this anecdote that was Hammerstein's inspiration for the musical. In The King and I, it is the royal concubine Tuptim's interpretation of Stowe's book that becomes the ballet, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." Tuptim's tragic decision to run away like the slave Eliza, to be with her true love, leads to a tragic thwarted escape and the ultimate confrontation between Anna and the King. Many of Hammerstein's librettos are concerned with human dignity. Both he and Rodgers saw this ballet as the driving emotional force for the entire show.
Kelli O'Hara, as Anna Leonowens, is an American theater treasure. Her beautiful musical phrasing and commanding stage presence make as strong and lasting a portrayal of Anna as Gertrude Lawrence and Deborah Kerr, the great ladies of the stage and film, before her. Miss O'Hara is the definitive Anna for our time. We are transfixed by her every moment onstage.
Hoon Lee as King Mongkut of Siam is splendid in every way. He both holds his own and makes the iconic role his own. No mean feat. The building chemistry between him and Miss O'Hara makes for delightful verbal and physical romantic sparring.
Ruthie Ann Miles is fabulous in her Tony-winning role as Lady Thiang, the King's head wife. It is her soaring rendition of "Something Wonderful," that makes this heart-stopping ballad the show's anthem of love.
The star-crossed young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha, are played by Ashley Park and Conrad Ricamora. Both are wonderful. Miss Park's voice is glorious in all of her numbers, and the duo is heartbreakingly beautiful in the rhapsodic songs "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." Jon Viktor Corpuz as the heir to the throne, Prince Chulalongkorn, and Paul Nakauchi as Kralahome, are both riveting performers.
In fact, each and every cast member delivers superbly detailed and fully realized performances.
Michael Yeargan, the show's set designer, creates a spare, and therefore, spiritual setting for the Vivian Beaumont Theater's stage. This beautiful set supports the superb direction by Bartlett Sher of the show's epic numbers and also allows the quiet and introspective moments to breathe. The stunning costumes are by Catherine Zuber.
Christopher Gattelli lovingly restaged Jerome Robbin's ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas" to fit the Vivian Beaumont thrust stage. This is a dramatic change from a proscenium stage. Now the ballet is performed for and to the King as he sits center and downstage facing the dancers, instead of off to the side. This enhances the dramatic weight and human emotion of the work. For the audience, with this specific staging, we get to see every dancer and every breathtaking and shimmering detail of this dance jewel.
This show is musical theater heaven. If you can get tickets, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of an unforgettable theatrical experience.