The King and I Shows Why You Can Always Rely On The Classics

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Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I."  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

I enjoy seeing new, contemporary theatre, which St. Louis has in abundance.  I also have a deep appreciation for the classics, and sometimes the comfort of seeing Anything Goes or South Pacific is exactly what I want after a stressful week. On November 28, 2017, I finally got to check off a classic from my to-do list that has been “a puzzlement” to me for too long. I guess I always put off watching one of the several Hollywood film versions of the venerable Rodgers & Hammerstein classic The King and I—and I own the one starring Chow Yun-Fat on DVD, still wrapped in plastic—because I wanted to see the pageantry of the stage production first. I’m glad I did. Ace director Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning revival toured to the Fabulous Fox Theatre for a Nov 28- Dec 10, 2017 run that might just be the show to see at the Fox.

For the two of you who don’t already know, the story takes place in Siam circa the late 1860s, during the age of empire expansion and the American Civil War. The French were taking control of various countries in southeast Asia, and the King of Siam (Jose Llana) was not going to let that happen to what we call Thailand today. He summoned an English school teacher named Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) to teach his 70-odd children and his several wives. Anna’s a stranger in a strange land but she’s also dedicated to her English morals and western thought. The teacher and the King would bicker about the terms of her employment, specifically about a house adjoining the royal palace which the King claimed to not recall promising the stubbornly steadfast Englishwoman when they struck their bargain. AS the show progresses, she slowly gains his acceptance, becomes a trusted advisor and helps him ward her own curious countrymen who were making overtures about taking power over the “barbarian king“ to buffer their French neighbors’ acquisition grabs in the region.

For the millions who have enjoyed The King and I for decades, it’s no puzzlement at all. From the archetypical musical masterpiece “Getting to Know You” to the humor and cultural diversity of the book, exquisite dances and gorgeous costumes, this national tour from the Lincoln Center Theatre Production hit nearly every point on the perfect musical checklist with precision. Laura Michelle Kelly was everything you’d hope for in the role of Anna—strong voiced, strong willed, and big-hearted. She was perfectly matched with Jose Llana, whose performance was engrossing, endearing and energetic. Each of the featured singers were in fine form, with Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang sang from the heart, Q Lim as arranged marriage prize Tuptip hit soaring high octaves all night and Kavin Panmeechao as her forbidden suitor Lun Tha provided tender passion.

My only quibble with the touring show was with the set design. The show started off with great visual promise as Anna and her son (Ryan Stout) arrived at the docks on a lovely cruise ship set piece. From that scene on, the stage was rather Spartan, giving the impression that the royal palace of the Siamese king was no more elaborate than a park pavilion. The Fox Theatre’s HVAC system even caused a little sway in the “pillars’ that hung from above, further interfering with the illusion of permanence to the royal structure. I just don’t think it would have taken a whole lot more to really make the set shine, but the austerity of the set was glaring enough to make the promise of visual impact that the cruiser entrance hinted at disappointingly unfulfilled.

Others might take the plain set to be a better way to highlight the wondrous job of the actors. From top to bottom, this relatively large cast truly excelled. I bow in the traditional Siamese style to Anthony Chan, Brian Rivera, Patrick Boll, Madeline Trumble, Jaden D. Amistad, Kayla Paige Amistad, Lamae Caparas, Sydney Chan, Andrew Cheng, Michelle Liu Coughlin, Max B. Ehrlich, Nicole Ferguson, Marie Gutierrez, Rie Hatanaka, Spencer Donovan Jones, Darren Lee, Stephanie Lo, Michael Lomeka, Saki Masuda, Nobutaka Mochimaru, Rommel Pierre O’Choa, Yuki Ozeki, Kevin Schuering, Marcus Shane, Alicia Shumway, Michiko Takemasa, Noah Toledo, Madeline Trumble, CJ Uy, Jeoffrey Watson, and the long-waiting Kiera Belle Young. The effort of the entire cast really elevated the production and banished any puzzlement from the audience as to why The King and I is a true musical classic.

If you think the 2017-2018 Broadway Series at the Fox Theatre consists of Hamilton and “the rest,” you sorely underestimate the rest of the productions. See for yourself why The King and I is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best work. Visit www.FabulousFox .com for ticket information, and for more on this powerful production.

4.5 / 5.0