BWW Reviews: Audiences Dance and Whistle with THE KING AND I at Playhouse Merced

The Merced Playhouse production of "The King and I" leaves audiences whistling plenty of happy tunes. The tunes come easily enough after a pleasant evening of some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most well-known songs. 

The beloved musical tells the story of the Englishwoman, Anna, who moves to Siam with her son to teach the king's children and wives. As West and East clash in values, religion, and clothing, Anna and the king fight, love, and learn from each other. Subplots include the lives of the king's wives and a forbidden romance between Tuptim and Lun Tha.

The show features lush melodies like "Hello, Young Lovers" and character songs such as "A Puzzlement." It also includes the fun and playful "Getting to Know You" and the catchy "Shall We Dance." Merced's community-driven cast performs these songs with energy and, for the most part, talent. Aside from some uncomfortable high notes coming from the supporting ladies, the chorus and leads exhibit strong, agreeable voices. The weaker moments are likely due to poor technique, but the average local theater-goer will not know the difference.

Tammy Borges lacks an English accent, but uses a high-class speaking voice and excellent acting to successfully convey the background and strong will of Anna. Borges has a beautiful voice and works well with Valiant Reyes, who plays the King of Siam. With her convincing facial expressions and his powerful build and persona, the two have great chemistry on stage. And Reyes has a satisfying voice, although his character's accent sometimes inhibits it - as is necessary for a character voice - keeping Reyes from using the full power of his cords. Reyes looks the part in stature and acts the part perfectly. He wears some of the most impressive costumes in the production next to Borges' absolutely gorgeous, albeit a bit too short, evening party dress.

The king's adorable children make viewers laugh and smile, particularly the young crown prince, Chulalongkorn, played by Jaymie Jackson. Jackson has the fun job of mimicking the king's stances and pronouncements, and he delivers plenty of laughs during a reprise of the king's "A Puzzlement."

Supporting actress Krista Mensonides (Tuptim) also does a lovely job on her acting. In a dramatic scene after her character gets caught running away, Mensonides' tears and sobbing are not overdone, but rather, refreshingly realistic. Unfortunately, Mensonides wears the only disagreeable costume in the show. Her beauty hides behind a bright orange costume that does not complement her figure, as well as a far too obvious brown wig and a plastic tiara that seems out of place. If the wig had only been black or worn up like the hair of the other female cast members, it would have made a huge improvement. 

Cast members have neglected to dye their hair for the production, and their American hair colors and non-ethnic skin color remain, but hair buns, beautiful head pieces, and dark eye makeup help with the suspension of belief. 

The entire cast dons authentic, bright and colorful costumes, which stand out against the staid sets. The backdrop and sets remain the same throughout the show, but colorful paintings and clever framing make them thoroughly enjoyable and appropriate, and an alluring floor painting made to look like a mosaic of three elephants greets audience members as they enter the theater. 

A small, but sufficient, orchestra completes the pleasant community production. Even with its small flaws, "The King and I" at Playhouse Merced welcomes audiences with humor, song and even a little bit of dance. The classic musical asks its patrons, "Shall We Dance?" In return, they gladly reply, "Yes."


The King and I

Playhouse Merced

February 3 - 19

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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