Review by Gillian Potter-Merrigan
There are few things in life as comforting as a Rogers and Hammerstein musical; hot buttered toast on a drizzly autumn afternoon or the buzz of bees in a summer garden are two but by far the most comforting last night was the tour of the award winning revival of The King and I.
Set in Siam during the timeframe of the American Civil War and based on the Margaret Landon novelisation of Anna Leonowens’ memoir, the musical is a joy to behold. The familiar songs are there; “Hello Young Lovers”, “Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know you” and the absolute show stopper “Shall We Dance” and the show currently playing at The Opera House has lost none of the charm that delighted audiences when it was first performed in 1951 with this staging under the direction of Bartlett Sher showcasing some truly dazzling set pieces.
The staging itself is simply beautiful, reminiscent of a real Hollywood musical and the beauty of the Far East and full credit must be given to the entire creative team; the lighting, set desginers and costume department have excelled in creating a show which is more than a show, it is a spectacle. Add in an orchestra under the direction of Stephen Ridley and the audience are transported fully to another place.
Staring Annalene Beechy as Anna Leonowens and Jose Llana the King direct from the West End and Broadway respectively there is not one hair out of place, not one note out of tune and not one actor out of step. The singing is as clear as a bell with not one word inaudible and the choreography of both the musical numbers and the ballet set pieces proclaim the production to be a tour de force of the best that musical theatre has to offer.
Telling the tale of teacher Anna Leonowens who arrives at the Royal Court to teach a select number of the 67, or later 77, royal children there is the love of Lady Thang for her King, the love of Anna for her dead husband and the illicit love of Tuptim and Lun Tha all with the background of the juxtaposition of the cultures of east and west, both a puzzlement to the other with songs and dancing, comedy and laughter. It is hard to pick out any one actor that shines above the rest, every character is played to perfection and the “aahs” that accompanied anything by the children of the Royal Court said it all.
There is simply not a single thing wrong with this production. At times it was hard to believe that it was a theatre and we hadn’t been transport to the sound stage of a Hollywood musical. Such was the technicolour brilliance of the stage design, costumes, lighting and acting.
It is easy to see how this revival production from The Lincoln Center in New York has won four Tony awards and had six Olivier nominations. It is not so much a musical as an experience, a feast for the senses. I cannot remember the last time that the standing ovation had commenced before any performers appeared on the stage for their curtain call but last night I saw that. It is hardly surprising; I have not seen such perfection on the stage for a long time. Shall we dance? Only the most hard hearted would say no…..