BWW Review: LSPR Teatro's THE KING AND I Brought Classic Golden-Era Charm
As the inaugural show at the newly opened Amani Palladium Theater, LSPR Teatro's THE KING AND I was satisfyingly entertaining, though with some obvious room for improvement. The production ran for four days from 21 through 24 November 2019 and was directed by Bartolomeus K. Putra.
The moment one enters the Amani Palladium Theater, a feeling of familiarity might kick in. The layout and size was altogether not dissimilar to LSPR Teatro's old haunt at Dr. Djajusman Auditorium and Performance Hal (including seats composed of portable chairs, bafflingly without tiers or levels). However, the stage is larger and with a built-in proscenium arch.
During THE KING AND I's run, the aforementioned arch was decorated with classical Siamese architectural accents, setting up the stage for the tale to come. As the overture ended and the curtain parted, we were introduced to Louis Leonowens (played by Nazry Arisyi Ronazy), who spied through his binoculars the land of Siam and its curious populace.
His mother, Anna (Cantika Citra Alisa), joined him. She'd been summoned by the King of Siam to instruct the royal children; he planned to usher in an age of modernity to Siam by employing Western education. To ease Louis' worries of their new life in a foreign land, she sings the show's first number "I Whistle A Happy Tune".
Even from the opening number, it was evident that both Cantika and Nazry were well-cast. She had not only a mature grace to her that was very becoming of the role, but also considerable stage presence and an infectious energy that made it easy to root for the protagonist. Her vocal performance was also the strongest of the cast, with a classically trained quality to it.
Nazry, meanwhile, played the role with an earnest youthfulness and a befittingly child-like tone of voice without being overdone. Soon, the mother-child duo was greeted by the Kralahome (Bernardrio Justin Widjaja), the King's right hand man, before being ushered to present themselves to the King.
The set of the royal palace was dominated by a prominent golden throne (which could be rotated to become a large Buddha statue on the other side). With the somber red lighting and attendants solemnly walking with incense burners, a mystical atmosphere pervaded the theater. Beyond the tinted fog was the titular King of Siam, perched on his throne.
Played by Dimas Rehand Arends, the role was a complex one that carried with it a rich history and lofty expectations, particularly due to Yul Brynner's iconic and long-running portrayal. Dimas' turn was overall satisfactory, though he could have benefited from sharper, weightier gestures for a more consistent sense of dominance and arrogance. Nevertheless, he played considerably well against Cantika's Anna.
The King then called upon his many wives and children to greet Anna ("March of the Royal Siamese Children"). It was here the production's biggest strength was made apparent: the ensemble. Bursting with energy, the children bolted on stage to curtsy, bow, shake hands, and bump fists. Dripping with both character and charm, the children's antics made both Anna and the audience smile. The cast obviously had a blast playing these roles and this zest naturally elevated the energy of the show.
Another stand out was Lady Thiang, The King's chief wife. The uptight, dragon-lady type was played beautifully by Cheryl Mesa Barianto, whose body language and expressions were always in control. She had an ever-present dignified charisma that contrasted really well with the rambunctious royal children.
Also introduced among the King's entourage was crown prince Chulalongkorn (Gibran Audi M., who nailed the prideful countenance and restless, pent-up energy of the teenage royalty); newly acquired slave/wife Tuptim (played by the Tania Luthfina, whose lovely voice made for beautifully melancholic moments); and the scholar-turned-lover Lun Tha (played by Jason Sebastian Gani; him and Tania made for a memorable secondary couple).
Amidst the myriad blossoming romance and friendships, the standout was the mutual adoration between Anna and the royal children, as evidenced in the crowd-pleasing number "Getting to Know You".
Overall, the show ended up becoming more of an ensemble piece; each character and relationship shared the limelight in lieu of the usual prominence of the King and Anna's will-they-won't-they routine. It was a peculiar but not unwelcome flavor; there was a certain charm in seeing the different facets of the court life put center stage.
LSPR Teatro's art direction, however, was well within expectations for a period piece; the costumes, in particular, deserved praise for the authentic and regal-looking cloths (and especially the extravagant pieces featured in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas"). One exception was the King's white robe - the material was too thin and the seams were very much visible, making it look cheaper than the prime minister's robe. Thankfully, each principal cast had ample variety of costumes, giving the show a luxurious feel.
However, the props department could be improved; since the theater was very intimate and audience in the front row could see each detail, the modern plastic-based umbrella and binoculars were very noticeable.
One other weak point of the production was the cast's diction; though perhaps intentional to some extent, whole phrases could get easily lost with unclear enunciation and unpolished projection. Fortunately the sound engineering was good, with no major mic mishap.
The choreography (by Nadya Chrisanti) was a great addition to the show, blending traditional Thai dance movements with simple but effective (and fun) contemporary ones. The choreography was not particularly complex but it didn't need to be.
Finally, as THE KING AND I touches on issues of cultural differences, the problems that can crop up from differing values, and, ultimately, how tolerance and friendship can prevail over those very differences, it is a show that was timely to bring to Indonesia. It is funny and heartwarming show and the production did it justice.