Review: Rockdale Musical Society's Presents Family Favourite THE KING AND I

By: Mar. 04, 2017
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Friday 3rd March 2017, 8pm, Rockdale Town Hall

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's comic, poignant romance, THE KING AND I, is the latest musical presented by ROCKDALE MUSICAL SOCIETY. Based on Margaret Landon's novel "Anna And The King Of Siam", based on the true story of Anna Leonowens' time as governess for the children of King Mongkut of Siam, this classic from the golden ages of musicals, filled with memorable music remains a crowd pleaser 66 years after it debuted on Broadway.

Stephen Halstead as The King, Dean McGrath as Phra Alack and Ed Mafi as Kralahome (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

Director Cathy Boyle has created a visually stunning work, supported by a 15 piece orchestra under the direction of Ian Buchanan. The 57 strong cast is given a wonderful space to work in by Set Designer and Creator Bob Peet. Large cutouts of Siamese warrior statues and a rear walk give depth and vertical variety when paired with the backdrop of the view from the imperial palace, filled with spires and the iconic peaked roofs. In contrast to other amateur theatre productions, the rendering of the set is of high quality with intricate attention to detail.

Chairmaine Gibbs as Anna Leonowens and Stephen Halstead as The King (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

Boyle has drawn on the 1956 film for costuming inspiration, lifting Anna's ballgown straight from the Irene Sharaff's rendition. The borrowing of costumes from other production companies has however led to hems being distractingly short of the floor grazing lengths designed to hide feet and allow the female to float across a room. When this issue is paired with oddly shaped support garments that appear to have been squashed out of shape and an unease moving with lightness and grace in the hooped skirt, the intended image is somewhat diminished. Boyle has opted to incorporate a liberal dose of sequins to reduce the need for Thai silks but thankfully The King and Lady Thiang's costumes still incorporate the rich textiles and overall the colourful costumes create striking visuals.

Jacqueline Chang and Dancers (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

Keely Soulsby's choreography for the narrated ballet is wonderfully realised with Jacqueline Chang presenting a beautiful Eliza and Joseph Nalty giving grace and gravitas to the Evil King. What should be a sweeping, flowing sequence between the King and Anna learning to dance is somewhat stilted by Charmaine Gibbs' unease with the costuming but Stephen Halstead expresses the King's joy at the experience.

Jeremy Boulton as Lun Tha and Natalie Rose Cassaniti as Tuptim (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

The standout performances come from Stephen Halstead as the King and Jeremy Boulton as Lun Tha. Halstead has a clear, rich baritone, giving the king a gravitas and sensitivity as he is gradually persuaded to change his ways of thinking. Halstead ensures that his voice remains neutral, refraining from dropping into an Australian accent whilst not overplaying the impression of a Thai with English as a second language. He expresses a playfulness as the King gets Anna to comply with his demands whilst conveying an increasing affection for the woman that is changing his world.

Tisha Kelemen as Lady Thiang, Ellis Pinkerton as Chulalongkorn, Stephen Halstead as The King, Charmaine Gibbs as Anna Leonowens and Max Fernandez as Louis (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

Jeremy Boulton, whilst having a minor role Lun Tha, has a solid voice and shows great potential to continue on a professional career. He has a clarity, intensity and understanding of the text to express the emotion whilst ensuring that the relatively neutral accent he has opted to present Tuptim's Burmese lover with remains consistent. His physicality ensures that he conveys the love and fear whilst not overplaying the role or turning it into a caricature.

Charmaine Gibbs as Anna Leonowens (PHoto: Chloe Snaith)

Charmaine Gibbs, as Anna Leonowens delivers a variable performance in both her connection to the work, vocals and physicality as already mentioned. Her rendition of Hello Young Lovers is given a poignancy and is presented with a solid, classical tone with consistency in accent but her I Whistle A Happy Tune varies distractingly in pronunciation, wavering between English and Australian, an issue that also slips into her spoken word. Whilst the work is generally presented as a slow burning love story, Gibbs presents Anna's return to the King's deathbed is done more done more out obligation than of devotion.

Tisha Kelemen as Lady Thiang (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

Similarly, Tisha Kelemen's portrayal of Lady Thiang, the King's number 1 wife, has its strong points and some weaker renderings. Kelemen's voice is at its peak in Something Wonderful, giving a strength and gravitas to the work as she conveys the emotion of supporting the King and realising that he is falling for Anna, and encouraging the school teacher to support the hard headed leader. Unfortunately, her opening number for the second act Western People Funny doesn't quite hit the mark in both tone and execution. She does however give the favoured wife a presence that conveys her understanding as her position as the mother of the future king whilst having a gentle nurturing nature for Chulalongkorn.

Stephen Halstead as The King and Charmaine Gibbs as Anna Leonowens (Photo: Chloe Snaith)

For an amateur production, Rockdale Musical Society's THE KING AND I is a great expression of the community spirt and support for performing arts. The performances show a range of experience and as with amateur performance companies around the world, serves as a good training ground for future professionals and in this case, Boulton appears as the stand out young performer to watch.


Rockdale Musical Society

Rockdale Town Hall

3 - 12 March 2017

Photos: Chloe Snaith