BWW Review: THE KING & I National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on Margaret Landon's 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, The King & I tells the true story of Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher who comes to Bangkok in the 1860's teach the royal children and wives of the King of Siam. The plot is ensued by an unconventional and tempestuous relationship between Anna and the King as they try to modernize the country.
After being spearheaded as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, the original Broadway production opened on March 29th, 1951, where it went on to win 5 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and a run of 1,246 performances after closing on March 20th, 1954. A film adaptation was released in 1956 which would go on to win 5 Academy Awards. This current national touring production is based on the most recent Broadway revival presented by Lincoln Center Theater in 2015, which won 4 Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical).
Under the direction of Bartlett Sher, this production is filled with visual wonders. It opens with an impressive image of a boat landing in Siam before having the rest of the story take place in the palace with a wall concealing everyone from the outside world. Credit must be given to set designer Michael Yeargan, who along with lighting designer Donald Holder and costume designer Catherine Zuber have created one of the most beautiful productions to have grace the stage in recent memory. Not to mention that choreographer Christopher Gattelli, working in the style of Jerome Robbins' original musical staging, offers up some stunning work.
The musical itself may be three hours long, but it didn't really feel long to me. I thought both the length and pacing seemed just right. Not only does it have Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II's memorable score brought to life by Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations, but Hammerstein's dramatization of the story could not feel more culturally relevant to today's world. He even managed to work in some humor that may not be laugh-out-loud, but very subtle, which would earn the laughs from the audience.
As for the cast, this production is so superbly acted, that each principal performer deserves their own mention as they all all find their moments to shine. Laura Michelle Kelly offers a strong performance in the role of Anna Leonowens; Jose Llana gives a masterful take on The King of Siam; Joan Almedilla stands out as the King's chief wife, Lady Thiang; Manna Nichols & Kavin Panmeechao both give heartfelt performances as the star-crossed lovers of Tuptim & Lun Tha respectively; and fittingly enough, Anthony Chan is almost just as masterful as the King's heir to the throne, Prince Chulalongkorn. As for the Royal Children, I may not use this word a lot, but I thought they were very cute.
If you have never seen The King & I before, this remarkable production should be a great introduction. Not only is it 'Something Wonderful' to behold, but it should also leave you in a happy mood. The national tour is currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through June 11th.
For more information regarding the tour, please visit: