BWW Review:: THE KING AND I at The Aronoff Center

BWW Review:: THE KING AND I at The Aronoff Center
Elena Shaddow (left) and Jose Llana (right)
in The King and I.

The King and I

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammmerstein II

Directed by Diane Bartlett Sher

Review by Taylor Clemons

Entire contents copyright © 2018 Taylor Clemons. All rights reserved.

If I'm being completely honest, I walked into this show not quite knowing what to expect. Rodgers and Hammerstein aren't typically my cup of tea, and I know that The King and I, itself, has had a bit of a troubled past in it's portrayal of the Siamese culture in the time the musical takes place. The show originally opened in 1958, in a world that is very different than the one we live in today. I am happy to say that this new production is skillfully handled by director Bartlett Sher. The show feels sincere and genuine, something I was afraid it might lack.

The story centers around Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow), a school teacher from Whales who has lived in eastern parts of Asia all of her life. She is hired by the King of Siam (Jose Llana) to tutor and teach his many children he has fathered by his many wives with her son along for the journey, after the passing of his father. When they arrive in Siam, things aren't what Anna expects, and she almost instantly butts heads with the King. When British troops threaten the country's norms and customs, Anna and the King must put their heads together to try to keep him in power.

I can honestly say there was not a single weak link in the entire cast. The show is lead by the remarkable Elena Shaddow as Anna. The moment she walks onstage her presence takes over the room, and you can't help but look at her. Shaddow's voice soars throughout the show, and she skillfully incorporates her comedic chops in "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?". She's giving a career best performance, and it's honestly one I'll remember forever. The incomparable Jose Llana as The King of Siam compliments Shaddow's Anna exquisitely as does she for him. Llana commands the stage and can go from strong and forceful to silly and funny at the drop of a hat. In his more dramatic scenes, he wields a strong intensity that you can feel from the balcony. He is in wonderful voice with the astonishing "A Puzzlement" as a standout for the evening. Joan Almedilla is a delight as Lady Thiang, the King's most favored wife. She plays the role as smart and cunning, with an underlying fragile nature as well. Her ballad toward the end of Act 1 "Something Wonderful" was just that indeed. Last but not least is the fantastic Q Lim as the slave Tuptim. She manages to break your heart over and over again as she longs for a life outside of the castle walls.

The choreography and staging are downright exceptional. The show can easily feel long, but Bartlett Sher has found a way to briskly move through the story. Christopher Gattelli's choreography is stunning, and really shines in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (in which the ensemble really gets a chance to shine). I also must mention Catherine Zuber's amazing work on the costumes in the show. Everything looked beautiful and masterfully made.

If you're on the fence for this show, and are wondering if you should go, the answer is a definite and positive "yes"! I doubt you will ever see this quality of a production of this specific show in a very long time, if ever again. Everything just works together to create a splendid and truly memorable night at the theatre.

The King and I is running Now - April 22

Procter & Gamble Hall - Aronoff Center For The Arts

650 Walnut Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.

(513) 621-2787

Entire contents copyright © 2018 Taylor Clemons. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

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