BWW Review: The Wondrous and Brilliant National Tour of Broadway's 2015 Revival of THE KING AND I Docks Splendiferously at the Pantages
The King and I/book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II/music by Richard Rodgers/based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon/choreographed by Christopher Gattelli/music supervision: Ted Sperling/directed by Bartlett Sher/Hollywood Pantages Theatre/through January 21
A friend referred to The King and I as a War Horse, an old chestnut, for it has surely surpassed time as an enduring musical classic, but upon seeing it again, one realizes just how potent, vibrant and topical a piece it truly is. Musicals of such depth and perspective with a keen eye to the future seem to be a thing of the past. Yes, it's a love story at the core, an unlikely one, but with many, many more levels. It entails issues of race, slavery, the urgency for a king of a tiny uncivilized kingdom to change his primitive, barbaric ways, and for his children to receive a truthful education as he embarks on assimilating 19th century Siam to western culture and civilization...and to repeat, it's a bigger-than-life love story that has become eternally revered not only for its music but for its intolerance of bigotry of any type. In this 2015 Broadway revival, currently onstage at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, nothing is lost; every gorgeous detail is present, and the story of Anna and The King is radiantly performed through January 21, 2017. In short, this production is a stunner.
I stress that the show is topical, because in the 21st century, we are still unbelievably plagued by narrow-minded attitudes and behavior, in some places worse than others, but they still very plainly exist, particularly as we face the racism of an incoming President.. In this story in 1862 the love affair between Tuptim (Manna Nichols) and Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao) suffers because of the bonds of prejudice. They are punished because of love. And Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) and the King (Jose Llana) never fully realize their love for one another until it is too late...again due to the formidable obstacle of ignorance and intolerance. It is on his death bed that the King sees the light, permitting changes that will sadly exclude his participation. He will not see his children and his country mature. The optimism must lie in the fact that at least it is on its way.
The entire ensemble of King and I are first-rate. Llana gives an intensely focused performance as the King. His "Puzzlement" with what to do and how to do it makes him first a man, then a ruler. The King is often like a child in his outbursts, and Llana translates this element so beautifully, creating one of the best and most humane Kings I have seen. Kelly makes a lovely Anna, full of passion and good sense, but never going to extremes. Her graceful presence and lovely voice assure a perfect fit. Joan Almedilla brings a sterling strength to Lady Thiang. Her great rendition of "Something Wonderful" is unforgettable. Praise as well to Nichols as Tuptim and to Panmeechao as Lun Tha for their bold and earnest rebelliousness, and to Bylen Thomas as Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsay, to Brian Rivera as the unbending Kralahome, to Anthony Chan so real, innocent and fearful as the Prince. Kudos as well to every other actor and to all the children who are divinely disciplined in their scenes, particularly in "The March of the Siamese Children".
Director Bartlett Sher has staged it all beautifully with a keen eye to detail, and I have never seen the "March" so believable with the children, not perfect, but much more natural, scurrying around and playing instead of following orders to the letter. Christopher Gattelli has done a splendid job of choreographing the ballet of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" as well as "Shall We Dance?" for the principals. Michael Yeargan has designed some simple yet functionally elegant sets. The opening scene with an actual boat onstage is a first and adds such sweep and at the same time confusion of the arrival to an unknown territory. Catherine Zuber's scrumptious costumes are so vivid and colorful, aided by Donald Holder's deliciously exotic lighting design.
Apart from the substance of The King and I, there are those simply divine Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes like "Getting to Know You", "I Whistle a Happy Tune", "We Kiss in a Shadow", 'Something Wonderful", "Hello Young Lovers" et al. I am a sucker for beautiful music and we have it in abundance here. There is nothing like a Rodgers and Hammerstein show; they were the first real American musical geniuses and have remained among the greatest composers - ever. Do yourself a favor and get tickets fast for this stellar First National Touring production of The King and I, as many performances are already sold out. You have until January 21 of the new year, but order early. Bartlett Sher is a superb director and his refreshing vision captivates without every losing a split second of Rodgers and Hammerstein's original intent. You are not likely to see a better King and I!