BWW Review: THE KING AND I at Mirvish is a Charming Revival of a Problematic Musical
There's no escaping it - this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has not aged well. Bartlett Sher's delightful production of THE KING AND I has arrived in Toronto at Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre. While the cast does an exceptional job revitalizing the work, they can't escape the problematic cultural themes that form the structure of this beloved musical.
In THE KING AND I, a heroically-independent teacher, Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow), arrives in Siam (former Thailand) to teach the many children of the King (Jose Llana). Though at first Anna is horrified by the King's barbaric philosophies about gender roles, etc, etc, etc - she discovers that deep down he has a heart and is willing to change - causing her own heart to change in tandem.
Problematic thematic elements aside, the cast does a lovely job bringing this golden age musical to life. I can't remember the last time Rodgers and Hammerstein was this funny!
Ms. Shaddow is magnetizing in the leading role. It's rare to find a performer whose vocal abilities and acting performance seem completely effortless. Shaddow glides through her voice, producing a pleasing sound that comes off as naturally as her spectacular embodiment of Anna. Her rendition of 'Hello, Young Lovers' will have you yearning for more.
As the King of Siam, Llana delivers gut-wrenching comedy throughout. From his dramatic achievements in the quick and wordy 'A Puzzlement' to his charismatic charm in 'Shall We Dance?' - Llana is hard to hate, redeeming even the King's worst moments.
The cast is full of lovely sopranos, with Joan Almedilla and Q Lim (Lady Thiang and Tuptim) both displaying lush voices that make it easy to fall in love with Rodgers and Hammerstein's glorious score.
Bartlett Sher's production is just as dazzling to watch as its players. Catherine Zuber's costumes are wonderfully-sumptuous with meticulously-decorated, flowing fabrics. And the sets, designed by Michael Yeargan, communicate the grandness of the King's palace while harmonizing with Sher's minimalist aesthetic.
While I appreciated the gorgeous production, the lovely performances, and the moments in the story where Anna was able to stand up for herself and the women of Siam - the book's portrayal of most of the characters is offensive. It would be difficult, not impossible, to avoid it with this work - but Sher's vision merely danced around the elephant in the room. I think we can do better.
THE KING AND I, presented at Mirvish, runs through August 12, 2018 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street W, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit mirvish.com/shows/the-king-and-i