The King and I
More than 60 years after its Broadway premiere, The King and I retains its hold on the popular imagination, largely through its songs. ("I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You," "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Shall We Dance?", at least, are part of the cultural DNA.) Olney Theatre Center, located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, and director Mark Waldrop have staged a solidly entertaining production of the classic musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics), anchored by two fine lead performances.
Paolo Montalban is a commanding presence as the King of Siam: youthful yet not impetuous, wise when he needs to be, devoted to his children and the future of his nation, and able to move beyond his preconceptions when challenged by British teacher Anna Leonowens (Eileen Ward). He has to showcase a series of moods in his soliloquy, "A Puzzlement," and acquits himself admirably.
At first, Ward's voice seems a little high and twittery for the strong-willed Anna, but she soon finds her level. Her singing is bell-like and her acting both playful and imperious when need be. She and Montalban have obvious chemistry, never more than in the joyful moment when they finally dance together.
The other noteworthy performers are two rich-voiced women: Yoonjeong Seong as Tuptim, the Burmese woman given as a concubine to the King but in love with a man she can never have, and Janine Sunday as Lady Thiang, the King's favorite wife and mother of his heir. The cast also includes 15 delightful and enthusiastic children, but only about half of them appear at each performancewhich seems a little skimpy for the "March of the Siamese Children," which should go on and on.
While James Fouchard's scenic design is rather basic, relying on a few panels that rise and fall or move from side to side, Kendra Rai has designed opulent costumes in shimmering gold and jewel tones. Music director Jenny Cartney, conducting from the piano, gets good results from her eight musicians.
Olney Theatre Center