The gods must have smiled when Richard Rodgers and Oscar
Hammerstein II decided to create the remarkable musical
The King and I.
The gods must have smiled when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II decided to create the remarkable musical “The King and I.” The story is loosely based on the life of a widowed English school teacher in the 1860’s who contracted to come to Siam with her young son, to teach the children of the revered and feared King of Siam. He boasts he has many wives and only 67 children because as he says he started late. East meets west and they learn from each other with some of the most beautiful songs the duo ever write.
The original 1951 production with Yul Brenner received five Tony Awards and the 1956 movie adaptation received five Academy Awards. This production, for the most part, is very well cast, but moves at a slow lope for most of the play. The children, who are an integral part of the presentation, just don’t cut it and don’t match up to the professional heights of others in the cast or others that have played these parts in other productions of this musical. They are local, and perhaps did not have enough rehearsal or enough rest. Something was definitely off when the usually delightful “March of The Siamese Children” fell as flat as a Siamese pancake.
Debbie Boon carries the role of the English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens with a presence that says, “I belong here, this is mine.” She speaks with a believable gentle English accent and sings with the authority of a pro. (Why am I so surprised?) Her performance is top drawer and memorable. Her delivery of “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting To Know You” is charming and delightful.
The King, played by the multi-talented Frances Jue, is another gift. Jue handles the role of the bright, insecure, despot with a sincere desire to do what was best for his people; with grace and intelligence. He projects the strength, sensitivity and vulnerability that are reminiscent of Brenner, and yet it is his own portrayal. His voice is strong, clear and enjoyable.
Phong Troung and Lisa Yuen bring a new height to the star-crossed lovers. They reach a new level with “We Kiss In the Shadow.” Irene La Trapp as Lady Thing makes the evening worth the trip with “Something Wonderful,” which convinces Anna that there is something worthwhile in the King who needs her help in this far away place.
Michael Anania’s sets and Karen Spahn’s lighting are worth the price of a ticket alone. They blend the time and place with a glorious mix of colors, shapes and style that give moments that delight. Anna’s ball gown in the second act is amazingly understated and at the same time beautifully striking. This is in contrast with the intricate dazzling costumes of the Siamese characters. Barbara Day Turner’s baton leads a fine full orchestra in the ever-memorable score.
Jerome Robbin’s updated exciting choreography by Vince Pesce keeps faithful to the flavor of the locale and the famous “Small House Of Uncle Thomas” number is a shining example of his genius. I have never seen it done better.
This musical, with its few flaws, will delight adults and children of all ages. It has a memorable message and entertains as well.
Camille Bounds is the arts and entertainment editor for the Western Division of Sunrise Publications.