REVIEW - THE KING & I - IT WAS A TREAT 'GETTING TO KNOW YOU'!
Last night The Grand Opera House was filled with theatre goers ready to take a trip back in time to Sian in 1860 as this multi Tony and Olivier award-winning musical returns by popular demand as part of a new international tour, following its critically-acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium.
My thespian peers will be shocked to hear that although the 'King and I' is a Musical Theatre staple by iconic duo Rogers and Hammerstein I have to confess that I have never seen the stage production nor the much loved movie, I went along with only minimal knowledge of some of the songs, this rarely happens and it was actually quiet exciting seeing a classic yet new production for me.
Before I dive into what I thought here is a brief overview
The King and I is the greatest musical from the golden age of musicals – with one of the finest scores ever written including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance. It is based on Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. The musical's plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher who is hired as part of the King's drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love to which neither can admit.
Review time from last night
In the opening scene we are introduced to West End’s Annalene Beechey who is portraying the school teacher, we discover that she is on route to Sian to take up educational duties for the King - Broadways Darren Lee
Annalene was incredible, oozing period style and demeanor of an educated lady in the late 1800's, she brought such depth of character and an incredible vocal performance. So much passion and emotion was delivered in every dramatic scene.
While the classic songs, I Whistle a Happy Tune and Getting to Know You, were highlights of the evening, her rendition of Hello Young Lovers was simply outstanding. I had tears in my eyes.
Darren Lee is perfectly cast as The King commanding the stage at every entrance. His understanding of the character was so evident that you felt he was living and breathing every movement and exchange
The chemistry between these two outstanding performers was palpable from their first scene together and just continued to grow throughout the show.
The script of the show is generally very witty and amusing, especially the exchanges between the two leading characters. These lines were delivered with excellent comedic timing though there are many tense moments
There was a stunning vocal and dramatic performance from Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, whose version of Something Wonderful brought the house down. Similarly, Dean John-Wilson as Lun Tha and Amelia Kinu Muss delivered one the most tender and romantic songs of the show, We Kiss in a Shadow, with all the desperation and longing of ill-fated lovers.
Caleb Lagayan as Prince Chulalongkorn gave a powerful performance, but also perfectly captured the uncertainty, vulnerability and fear of his future as King. Charlie McGuire as Louis was lovable and charming, and certainly is one to watch as his career in theatre progresses.
Every schoolroom scene had the audience melting at the precocious talent of several small and inexpressibly cute children in Thai dress. The costumes originally designed by Catherine Zuber (of Moulin Rouge fame) are spectacular
The Ballet in Act 2 was an odd yet captivating highlight - it was like a show within a show - the dancers were in classical Thai costumes reenacting the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (or rather, The Small House of Uncle Thomas) to impress a visiting English dignitary which was executed faultlessly by the outstanding ensemble, reminding us just what a unique and unusual piece of musical theatre this is.
Eastern and Western philosophies and concepts are contested and contrasted between the two opposing individuals who embark on a journey of discovery which leads to compromise, change, friendship, and an understanding of sorts despite the chasm that at times threatens to divide and tear them apart.
Many will say the subject matter and relationships are dated though I found it so relatable even in such a fast paced world people are having to embrace change almost on a daily basis, just look at views and perceptions of minority groups and ever evolving technology, we all have to change with the times
The colourful set designs are totally in tune with the landscape in which the show unfolds. I loved The lighting, it colourful and atmospheric projected against filmy gauze screens. The costumes and staging was both spectacular & flamboyant and the choreography was both soulful and fiery
Much like, Oklahoma and The Sound Of Music people of a certain age will have grown up watching The King I, no doubt the mass appeal will come from this group and MY fanatics though regardless of age or knowledge you should experience The King and I while it is in town.
Visiting in the GOH is always magical, there is nothing like watching a live performance in such a beautiful theatre, I knew The King and I was going to be extra special having just come from the West End, though I was not expecting grandeur on such a scale.
You can get tickets to via this link - The King and I - Grand Opera House (goh.co.uk)