Just when you think you have seen as many fine interpretations of how Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic ‘King and I’ musical ought to be done, along comes director Bartlett Sher’s beautiful and insightful Lincoln Center production.
Not only are all the voices in the outstanding category (and how often can you say that), Sher’s direction has brought forth all the characters’ strong motivations.
The songs everyone has come to know and love such as “I Whistle a Happy Tune and Hello Young Lovers” are beautifully sung by Laura Michelle Kelly as governess Anna Leonowens.
“We Kiss in the Shadow” and “I have Dreamed” take on an added coating of sadness and desire when exquisitely sung Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao as doomed lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha.
But you also have Jose Llana who really makes you understand the crossroads where he’s at between Siam’s traditional views and the “westernization” of his court he thinks will keep his country from colonization. He not merely sings, but acts “A Puzzlement.”
Based on the real Anna Leonowens’ memoirs as told by Margaret Landon in the 1944 novel, “Anna and the King of Siam,” the musical depicts how two strong characters, the independent governess Leonowens, and the King, known as Mongkut who sees women as servants, move from strongly-held beliefs to mutual respect, admiration and caring.
Then there is Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang (First Wife) singing “Something Wonderful.” The song does more than describe her feelings towards her husband, the King.
Almedilla’s exceptional expression of the words seemed to speak to many of the wives in the audience.
As to the youngsters in the show, “The March of Siamese Children” is charming and lighthearted but Graham Montgomery does a particularly fine job as Anna’s son, Louis, and Marcus Shane presented just the right amount of royal demeanor as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn when he stepped into a role opening night usually played by Anthony Chan.
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a ballet meant to entertain visiting English dignitaries but actually is a message from Tuptim that slavery is wrong, is well put across by dancers Lamae Caparas as Eliza, Amaya Braganza as Uncle Thomas, Yuki Ozeki as Topsy, Rommel Pierre O’Choa as Simon Legree, Michiko Takemasa as Little Eva and Nobutaka Mochimaru as the Angel/George.
The set design by Michael Yeargan was a creative mix of an Asian style wall backdrop, pillars and Buddha that places more emphasis on the action than ornamentation. That said, the set immediately captures attention when the curtains open with a a life-size boat coming onto the stage carrying Anna and Louis Leonowens.
Catherine Zuber’s costumes perfectly place the show into Leonowen’s period and location.
‘The King and I’ is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, now through July 2, 2017. For tickets and more information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago.