BWW Reviews: THE KING AND I at The Music Hall At Fair Park
With the show's Broadway debut in 1951, followed by the 1956 Academy-Award-winning film adaption, Rodger's and Hammerstein's THE KING AND I has been captivating audiences for over 60 years. Yul Brenner, the most iconic and well-known of the actors who have played the King, not only starred in both stage and film incarnations of this classic musical, but he brought the show's national tour to the Music Hall at Fair Park in 1989, where the acclaimed musical is currently being revived by Dallas Summer Musicals. Though the current production's leader may lack Brenner's clout and charisma, this locally produced musical provides a high-quality, dazzling opportunity to celebrate and enjoy this timeless classic.
Set in Siam in 1862, THE KING AND I tells the true story of the king of Siam (Alan Ariano), who has summoned an English school teacher, Anna Leonowens (Rachel York), to serve as the tutor to his many children and wives. When The King neglects to fulfill his promise to house Anna and her young son outside of his palace, tension between the two rises. Though Anna and the King struggle to understand and respect each other, they ultimately learn from one another, creating a unique, unlikely love story (all set to a divine Rodgers and Hammerstein score).
Perhaps the greatest hindrance of this production is the casting of The King. Producer Michael A. Jenkins has made it no secret that actor Alan Ariano was not the first casting choice for the role; Mr. Ariano was hired merely after public criticism that Paul Schoeffler, a caucasian actor, was inappropriately cast as the Siamese leader. Unfortunately, Mr. Ariano's King lacks the strength and power that the role requires, despite his truly beautiful singing voice and otherwise comfortable stage presence. From the moment Mr. Ariano, as The King, meets brave schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, it is clear that he is no match for her stubbornness and confidence.
Alternatively, as Anna Leonowens, celebrated Broadway regular Rachel York dominates the stage, filling the massive Music Hall auditorium with her crystal clear, soaring vocals. With 6 very diverse Broadway credits (two of which are preserved on film), not to mention her dozens of impressive credits off-Broadway, on national tours and in London's West End, it is no surprise that Ms. York delivers an impeccable, elegant performance. From the moment Anna appears onstage (for which she received entrance applause on Tuesday evening), it is evident that a legendary performance is about to be delivered.
Devin Ilaw and Yoonjeong Seong, as the young lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim, both offer beautiful, classical voices to their heart wrenching duets. With impressive onstage chemistry, it is no surprise to find that Mr. Ilaw and Ms. Seong performed these roles together 11 years ago. In fact, this is Ms. Seong's tenth production as the delicate princess, Tuptim. Her vocal control is captivating, especially in her first song, "My Lord and Master", when she had the audience in the palm of her fragile hand.
A very special highlight to this production is the inclusion of 11 local adolescent actors (Julie Hall, Adrian Hamlin, Luke Knittle, Marley Knittle, Francesca Nelle, Chloe Nguyen, Jonas Rogers, Rylan Ramirez, Madison Verre, Natalie Verre and Parker Weathersbee), who play The King's children. Each young performer perfectly blends in with their professional scene partners, delivering their songs and speaking lines with confidence and skill.
Dallas Summer Musicals has spared no expense to ensure that this production of THE KING AND I is as professional and seamless as the Broadway national tours that typically perform on the Music Hall at Fair Park's stage. The ravishing costumes, provided by Costume World Theatrical, are exactly what is called for and what one would expect. And the scenery, designed by Michael Anania, provides the ideal backdrop for the slick show, which is masterfully directed by Glenn Casale and choreographed by Bob Richard (who remarkably recreated Jerome Robbin's transcendent ballet, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas").
Despite any casting challenges, THE KING AND I is a charming addition to Dallas Summer Musical's 75th season. The memorable performances (especially by Ms. York) and timeless music are sure to make this production a family-favorite. Performances continue through April 5th, 2015. For tickets, and more information, visit www.DallasSummerMusicals.org.