Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The King and I is undoubtedly one of the finest musical’s from the Golden Age of musical theatre and so rarely seen that this touring version of New York’s Lincoln Centre production has been waited on with baited breath. Thankfully this sumptuous staging with its universally first class cast, deserves every plaudit thrown its way.
There has been plenty of artistic license taken when adapting Margaret Langdon’s Anna and the King of Siam, which was in turn taken from British governess Anna Leonowens’ own memoir of her time teaching the children of King Mongkut of Siam’s children. However, the good old-fashioned plot gives the audience something to hold on to, it’s richly drawn, there’s humour, pathos, laughter, tears, and the roller coaster of emotions in the beautifully constructed script, make the three-hour running time race by.
As much as the lavish set and costumes, the familiar rich tunes and the atmospheric lighting transport you, it’s the cast on whose shoulders the experience lies. Annalene Beechey delivers an assured central performance as Anna, she has a formidable but perfectly controlled presence and diction that would make Julie Andrews jealous. Kok-Hwa Lie as Kralahome the King of Siam, manages to balance the duality of the monarch – on one hand striving to modernise his country while still enjoying the trappings of tyrranical rule, and all with some humour thrown in. Cezarah Bonner delivers a regal performance as no.1 wife Lady Thiang and on as Tup Tim, Jessica Gomes-Ng is an absolute revelation, a real star in the making, she has a sublimely beautiful voice. Worthy of note are Ethan Le Phong as Lun Tha and Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn, as are the most adorable and talented children as the off-spring of the King. It’s a rare thing – there isn’t a weak link anywhere, every single person on the stage is the finest actor/singer/dancer for the role.
Worth mentioning too, and utterly mesmerising, is the ballet within the play, Tup Tim’s adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Small House of Uncle Thomas, is so beautifully executed that you can’t peel your eyes from the stage.
This production of The King and I is an entirely satisfying evening of theatre, richly deserving acclaim. It is masterfully executed, replete with gorgeous detail, it looks and sounds glorious and has a phenomenally talented cast. From the overall design to the tiniest details in the fabrics and lighting, and the rich orchestra, it all adds up to an evening of infinite quality. The word unmissable is thrown about lightly but this is a truly unmissable show.
Runs until 8 February 2020 | Image: Matthew Murphy