All hail the king.
And the teacher.
And the wives and children.
The Broadway road show of “The King and I” currently on the Centennial Hall stage is a stirring, powerful piece of musical theater.
The 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein piece about the King of Siam in the 19th century shouldn’t feel this relevant. He senses the heavy breathing of colonization as neighboring Cambodia falls under the thumb of the French. He believes women have little to give to the world. He has no respect for the world outside his kingdom (yet he hires a Welsh widow to teach his children the ways of the Western world).
But thanks to director Bartlett Sher, the musical’s core shines: the reaching across borders and cultures in an attempt to understand, and love in all its nuances. And the play takes on racism, misogyny and tyranny. No wonder it feels so current.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s soaring songs are treated with well-rooted expertise by the cast of this Tony-winning show.
Laura Michelle Kelly’s Anna, the feisty teacher, is determined, a feminist before feminism’s time, and fearless in her attempts to stand her ground against a king who demands her head always be lower than his. And her voice is warm and pure. Her take on “Hello Young Lovers” was fresh and deeply felt.
Jose Llana coaxed the humor out of the character of the king without ever making him a caricature, and made clear the multiple conflicts the ruler wrestles with.
The king’s first wife (he had many) was given a sternness salted with tenderness by Joan Almedilla. And her rendition of the wonderful “Something Wonderful” was delicious.
This is a huge cast, but each character, from the children on up, was realized.
“The King and I” is visually luscious. From the costumes (by Catherine Zuber) to the cinematic and ever-changing sets (Michael Yeargan), every detail put us in the time and place of the story.
The choreography, too, was a wonder, especially in the iconic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” ballet. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli based the dance on Jerome Robbins’ original, and the disturbing story of slavery and love that does not end well was riveting.
Director Sher has overseen the road production to make sure it is packed with the same quality and energy as the Broadway production. While this may be a slightly scaled-down version, the production is as rich as the 2015 Broadway production. If you don’t mind having “Getting to Know You” stuck in your head (and why would you?), this musical is a must-see.