The King and I, Lincoln Center’s dazzling new incarnation now at the Kennedy Center, is the jewel in the crown of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work. Written during the golden age of Broadway musicals, and inspired by the book Anna And The King Of Siam by Margaret Langdon, it tells the semifictionalized tale of Anna Leonowens, a widow with a young son who journeys to teach the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s.
This national touring production is simply sublime. For one thing, the musical itself has aged gracefully: with gorgeous waltzes and a sweeping score, songs such as “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Hello Young Lovers” still have the power to transport. And there’s a subtle thread of individual freedom woven into the script, as Anna teaches a king to view her as an individual rather than merely as a woman. Slavery, too, is addressed as Princess Tuptim, Burma’s ‘gift’ to the king, loses all she has, instead of submitting to becoming an ornament of his harem.
But ‘sublime’ doesn’t begin to capture the glorious voices in this production, from Laura Michelle Kelley as Anna, to Jose Llana as the King, each member of the cast is spot on. Joan Almedill as Lady Thiang has one of the most romantic pieces in the score, “”Something Wonderful”; her rendition of her loyalty and love for her husband and king nearly brought the house down. Acting can sometimes take a back seat in vocal casting of such demanding roles, but the frisson between Kelley’s Anna and Llana’s King was just right. And was there ever a more romantic and downright sexual moment than when the King sweeps Anna off her feet in “Shall We Dance”? I think not.
For those of us familiar with the 1950s film starring Yul Brynner, it’s hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the role. But Jose Llana brings his own joie de vivre to the part: his king is funny without being slapstick, grave without being maudlin, and (spoiler alert) the last scene, easy to overplay, is beautifully staged by director Bartlett Sher: the king’s bed revolves to become his bier, and our attention is drawn to the next king as our king passes beyond.
The King and I
closes August 20, 2017
Details and tickets
It’s also a beautiful show, with golden, jeweltoned costumes by Catherine Zuber and a strikingly elegant set by Michael Yeargan. There’s a wonderful economy of design in this set, which, as a touring show, must needs be less complex than the original production. Yeargan has solved this seeming dilemma with a thoughtful placing of tall gilded pillars that move about to become a palace, a throne room, Anna’s bedroom. A huge golden drape, drawn by courtesans, effects scene changes. The palace walls, topped by ornamental but sharp arabesques, looms in the background, keeping, as it were, Siam and its people insulated and apart from the world. Only at the very end do the walls rise to admit light surrounding the new king. It’s subtle, but moving nonetheless.
It’s said to be bad luck to say any show is perfect, but perfection this is. In particular, the long ballet of ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’, originally staged by Jerome Robbins, is reverentially recreated by choreographer Christopher Gattelli. Frankly put, it’s simply magical, and the masks and Siam dancer costumes by costumer Zuber are particularly stunning.
Oh, and did I mention that the King’s children are exceptionally cute young actors who also happen to be fantastic singers and dancers? I should mention that. And the large ensemble of adult actors, singers and dancers are equally gifted, most of whom play multiple roles with nary a pause between scenes. The skills of the cast and the pageantry of the production resulted in a well-earned standing ovation the night I attended.
Anna Leonowens traveled halfway around the world to become enchanted by 1860s Siam. You only have to travel round the Beltway to be equally enchanted.
The King And I: Liincoln Center Theatre Production . Music: Richard Rodgers, Book & Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II . Based upon Anna and The King of Siam by Margaret Langdon . Director: Barlett Sher . Cast: Laura Michelle Kelly, King of Siam Jose Llana
Lady Thiang: Joan Almedilla
Kralahome: Brian Rivera
Tuptim: Manna Nichols
Lun Tha: Kavin Panmeechao
Prince Chulalongkorn: Anthony Chan
Louis Leonowens: Graham Montgomery
Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsey: Baylen Thomas
Ensemble: Jaden D Amistad; Kayla Paige Amisad; Heather Botts; Adriana Braganza; Amaya Braganza; LaMae Caparas; Andrew Cheng; Michelle Liu Coughlin; Daniel J Edwards; Nicole Ferguson; Marie Guiterez; Mindy Lai; Darrin Lee, Q Lim; Stephanie Lo; Michael Lomeka; Tony Marin; Nobutka Mochimaru; Rommel Pierre O’Choa; Yuki Ozeki; Marcus Shane; Rylie Sickles; Sam Simahk; Michikop Takemasa; Noah Toledo; CJ Uy;Jeoffrey Watson; Kielli Youngman, Emilio Ramos
Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.