The King and I
- Kelly Apter
- 21 October 2019
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From ‘Getting to Know You’ to ‘Shall We Dance?’, the 1950s Rodgers and Hammerstein musical still hits the right note
Is it OK to like The King and I? Let’s hope so, because this lavish production is extremely likeable.
Set in Siam (now Thailand) in 1860, the musical is not without its political and cultural sensitivities. A forward-thinking, liberal English teacher takes up a position with the Siamese royal family, and essentially teaches them the error of their backward-thinking, eastern, misogynist ways. Hmmm.
At least now the lead role of the King of Siam is played by an Asian actor (unlike Yul Bryner in the film and early theatrical productions), and the introduction of Act Two opening number ‘Western People Funny’ (dropped from the film) offers something of a counterbalance.
Because western people are indeed funny, with their big hooped skirts, uncomfortable shoes, pinned up hair and make-up – something the King’s wives are quick to point out when they’re asked to dress European for a night. But there is plenty of wit of another kind, with The King and I bringing home many more laughs than your average musical.
Annalene Beechey as school teacher Anna Leonowens is an absolute joy. Strong of voice and will, yet gentle of spirit and in complete control of the 40-metre wide, 40lbs dress she swings round the stage during ‘Shall We Dance?’. The way she and the equally strong Jose Llana as the King of Siam play around with language has the crowd eating out of their palms.
Meanwhile, Paulina Yeung and Ethan Le Phong as would-be lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim take us into their hearts with powerful vocals and a real sense of longing. And the King’s children are, as expected, utterly adorable and well worth getting to know.
No expense has been spared on this production – the ornate head gear alone covers your ticket price. Opulent, perfectly executed and a feast for the eyes, The King and I may hark back to a different era but its capacity to entertain hasn’t diminished one bit.
Reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse. Currently touring until April 2020.