BWW REVIEW: Get to Know the Strength within THE KING AND I
The national tour of THE KING AND I kicked off a three-night run in Sioux Falls, SD on Tuesday night and while it may have been a bitter -20 degrees outside, inside the audience was transported back to hot and tropical 1860s Siam where even the idea of snow was laughable to the children of the King.
With original book, music and lyrics by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, THE KING AND I stands as a timeless classic in theatre repertoire. Since it's Broadway premier in March of 1951, THE KING AND I has gone on to win numerous Tony awards including Best Musical in 1952 and Best Revival of a Musical in 1996 and 2015.
Based on the novel, Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, THE KING AND I tells the story of English school teacher Anna Leonowens who is brought to Siam to teach the wives and children of the King. Anna and the King navigate a turbulent relationship throughout the show as they work to better understand each other and come to appreciate their differences.
It is clear that women are not looked upon favorably, especially by the King, in this time and place. This ideal is supported early in the show when Lady Thiang, head wife of the King, explains to Anna that they initially refer to her as Sir "because [she is] scientific. Not lowly, like woman." To which Anna scoffs and asserts that all women are strong; a truth that resonates throughout the show as we get to know the three female leads: Anna (Angela Baumgardner), Lady Thiang (Deanna Choi), and Tuptim (Paulina Yeung). The complexity of each of these women is expertly portrayed and proves women are not as lowly and simple as the King perceives.
Baumgardner is poised throughout the show as spitfire teacher Anna. The character's depth is brilliantly displayed during her performance of "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You." Baumgardner owns the stage throughout the song and really comes into the character; capturing both sides of Anna - the strong willed, sassy, and powerful woman who isn't afraid to challenge the King as well as the sweet romantic who has grown to care for the children she teachers, as shown earlier during "Getting to Know You" - perhaps the most well-known song from the show.
Choi's portrayal of Lady Thiang is positively royal. She brings an elegance to Lady Thiang and commands the stage during the emotionally revealing song "Something Wonderful" in which we see into the heart of a woman who respects tradition and loyalty to her husband while truly being the woman behind the man, guiding him throughout the show without him realizing it.
Yeung is perhaps one of the strongest singers in the cast with a beautiful voice that makes hitting the high notes of "My Lord and Master" look easy. Her portrayal of Tuptim, an initially unsure, timid girl, sent to the King as a "gift" from the King of Burma, is captivating. Her powerful range during "My Lord and Master" hints at a hidden strength within the character before the audience even gets to know her. She is more than a lowly slave to the King, determined and literate when she arrives, she fights for love and to be something more than a prisoner to the King.
One of the most interesting elements of this show for me was the contrast between the men and the women. While the women display a strength and surety throughout the show, the men seem to be stuck in a puzzlement of not understanding themselves, what they know, or the world. This is perhaps best personified in the song "A Puzzlement" when the King states that "There are time I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know, very often find confusion in conclusion, I concluded long ago." The men portray a surety of what they believe women and the world to be and the women in the show challenge those ideas. Watching the men grapple with their revelations is beautiful. Pedro Ka'awaloa, Timothy Matthew Flores, and Hayden Bercy do a splendid job of conveying the growth of these characters as The King, Prince Chulalongkorn, and Louis, respectively.
Perhaps one of my favorite moments came in Act 2 during the Ballet of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." While this portion could be seen as out of place and unnecessary in the scheme of an already long show, it absolutely contains the most beautiful choreography and staging in the show by Christopher Gattalli and Greg Zane. Akina Kitazawa, who portrays slave Eliza, is a very talented performer who captures the emotion of her character beautifully. The synchronicity between her and the Angle (Richel Ruiz) during their duet was breathtaking. Look closely for a reappearance of themes from earlier in the show during this portion, their presence makes this scene that much more impactful.
There is a reason this show continues to live on in revivals, community theaters, and tours across the country; it is a story that resonates throughout the ages. Make sure to catch this enchanting production of THE KING AND I at The Washington Pavilion through January 31st, 2019 - you can still get tickets here or at the box office.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
*A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Soraya Patoonsittichai as Eliza during this performance.