There was a real-life Anna who taught in the court of Siam in the 1860s. Rodgers and Hammerstein tackled her story only after seeing the 1946 film version of Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam, which they felt created cohesion from Landon’s fictional account. Landon, in her turn, had written her book based on Anna Leonowens’ own memoirs of her time as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam.
The backstory, while interesting, does not begin to do justice to the musical Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein fashioned from it. The King and I soars with humanity.
We know the technical capabilities at Lincoln Center Theater’s Beaumont, from shows like War Horse, Act One, and of course, South Pacific. These all used special effects and large moving props in striking ways
Sometimes a production exceeds all expectations as The King and I, playing through January 3, 2016, does in so many ways.
Lincoln Center Theater, following the success it had with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, has staged a wow-inspiring The King and I. Bartlett Sher’s direction is a tribute to the beauty of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s vision.
The scenery, by Michael Yeargen, is splendid. It is oppulent, staying cleverly away from being gaudy, so that its elegance is of the understated variety. Props move, sometimes on their own, sometimes they are hand-carried. Scenes change seamlessly and fluidly.
As highly-anticipated as Kelli O’Hara’s appearance as Anna was, she rose well beyond. O’Hara is a skillful actress with a lovely operatic voice. She is a major talent, who has been nominated for five Tonys. This year should see her sixth nomination, and a win!
Standing out in the extremely capable ensemble are both Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang, the first wife in the King’s (Ken Watanabe) seraglio and Ashley Park as Tuptim, a present to the King from the King of Burma.
Park, like O’Hara, also has a splendid operatic voice, and her duets with Conrad Ricamura as her lover Lun Tha in “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” are show-stopping.
The music and lyrics in The King and I carry progressive messages about appreciating cultural differences. The King and I is also about going beyond those differences to find an understanding. The King and his young heir, Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz) each have to find their own way in fulfilling their responsibilities as monarchs and men, as each sings in “A Puzzlement.”
The easy friendship between Anna’s boy Louis (Jake Lucas) and the young Prince seems to foreshadow the coming of a more modern Siam.
The wonderful staging includes a nearly 30 piece orchestra, led by the remarkable Ted Sperling. Costumes by Catherine Zuber are exquisite and stately.
For more information about The King and I, please visit their webiste.