Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Music: Richard Rodgers
Director: Bartlett Sher
Step back in time at Milton Keynes Theatre this week where you will be fantastically transported to Siam (now Thailand) with the Lincoln Centre Theater’s production of The King And I. It is a musical classic from that special bygone era and yet it remains timeless. The original show first appeared on Broadway to great acclaim in 1951 and was followed by the highly successful film in 1956, both starring Yul Brynner.
Based on the memoirs of the actual governess, Anna Leonowens, and on Margaret Langdon’s 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam, this story is set in the mid-nineteenth century. Anna travels with her young son to Siam to teach English to the King’s numerous children and wives. She is there also to help the King bring his country up to date; he is only too well aware of some European views of his Siam and of the threat these powers may pose. The central theme is indeed power/domination, that of countries over each other and men over women, unfortunately still of relevance to us today.
So we learn of the King’s struggle to modernise Siam, although used to being an absolute ruler, and of his shock at working with Anna, a woman who is prepared to air her views and to stand up to him. Amidst all the politics there is the touching tale of a burgeoning romance between the two and the mutual respect they hold, convincingly portrayed by the two stars. The chemistry between them is palpable, particularly when they dance together so touchingly to the beautiful Shall We Dance?
Annalene Beechey, as Anna Leonowens, gives us the perfect governess and what an amazing voice. One cannot help but be affected by her every mood and especially by her sorrow in her last moments with the King. Darren Lee brings us the eponymous King and does so with utter conviction. He is that strange mix of tyrant and adolescent, the toffee with the soft centre. Lee’s stage presence is powerful.
Jessica Gomes-Ng, as the very sweet Tuptim, is excellent in the role and what vocals! One would never have expected such power in her voice. Ethan Le Phong performs the part of Lun Tha, Tuptim’s beleaguered lover. A very creditable performance and their relationship seems very real. Cezarah Bonner plays the very gracious and worldly-wise Lady Thiang with total charisma. Her rendition of Something Wonderful is superb, very moving. The ensemble does a great job, particularly the enchanting children.
Michael Yeargan’s set is a masterpiece with pieces moving effortlessly across the stage conveying each different venue – simple but effective. The opening scene at the harbour has a clever touch but no spoilers here. The costumes, by Catherine Zuber, are gorgeous too.
The orchestra more than does justice to all the wonderful songs in the show, too many to mention. The King and I has something for everyone with humour, dancing, poignant moments, romance and a good story. Rightly many audience members are on their feet at the end. A superb evening’s entertainment, not to be missed.
Runs until 7 March 2020