BWW Review: THE KING AND I at Broadway In Chicago
Bartlett Sher's 2015 Tony Award winning revival of THE KING AND I has sailed into Broadway In Chicago's Oriental Theatre in a triumphant touring production. And I do say sailed because most of Michael Yeargan's opulent set pieces for the 2015 staging at Lincoln Center Theater (which I had the pleasure of seeing at that time) remain intact for the tour. At the top of the show, Anna Leonowens and her young son Louis arrive in Siam onboard a splendid ship-decked out in Catherine Zuber's beautiful costumes. While the sets and the size of the ensemble are somewhat reduced from Lincoln Center's grandiose production, this KING AND I still fully demonstrates Sher's deft vision for this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
While THE KING AND I is a dated musical in certain respects, Sher has succeeded in bringing the women in this piece to the forefront and also illuminates some of the sacrifices that must be made in the Kingdom of Siam's quest for modernization/Westernization. I find Sher's decision to include the second act opener "Western People Funny," often cut from other productions, to be an especially powerful choice. In the number, the King of Siam's wives marvel at the absurdity of Western culture. It's a refreshing twist.
Sher has assembled a talented and powerful ensemble for this tour. In Laura Michelle Kelly's self-assured Anna, Sher has found a tremendous leading lady for the tour. Not only is Kelly a perfectly expert vocalist, but she gives freely to her performance. Her Anna strikes the balance between firm and tender. Kelly's performance of the showstopper "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You" is particularly interesting; it's softer and less outright angry than other takes I've seen, but in a way that grants the number even more power for we see how deeply Anna feels in that moment. Kelly is well-matched by José Llana as the King of Siam. Llana's King is less severe than others I've seen, and one of the strongest singers I've seen in this role. That's an added benefit, especially because it makes Anna and the KIng's iconic duet "Shall We Dance?" all the more enjoyable.
The supporting players are equally wonderful to watch. As Princess Tuptim of Burma, Manna Nichols gives a performance that is deeply heartfelt and vocally on point, and she's nicely matched by Kavin Panmeechao as her lover Lun Tha. Joan Almedilla does fine work as the King's head wife Lady Thiang and delivers her signature number "Something Wonderful" with aplomb. Kudos also to Marcus Shane in the role of Prince Chulalongkorn, heir to the throne of Siam. Shane made his debut in the role at the performance I saw but seemed at ease onstage. The dancers for the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas" carry out Christopher Gattelli's choreography with grace.
This tour of THE KING AND I will surely leave audiences whistling a happy tune on their way out of the theater. Fans of the musical and those new to the piece alike will find much to appreciate in this staging of one of the great Golden Age shows.
THE KING AND I runs through July 2 at Broadway In Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Tickets are $24-$90. For more information, visit BroadwayInChicago.org.
Photo by Matthew Murphy