Getting to Know The King and I Again
I am not sure just how many Annas and Kings I have seen since I first saw the legendary Gertrude Lawrence and a young Yul Brynner on the stage of the St. James Theatre during the spring of 1951. The King and I almost did not get to New York since Leland Hayward said after its New Haven preview, "no gags, no gals, no chance." Much work was done before it opened on March 29, 1951. A major change was "Getting to Know You"; it was originally a soft shoe dance that Mary Martin rehearsed in South Pacific called "Suddenly Lucky." It was taken out before that show made its opening and later renamed and added to this musical. The ballet sequence, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," written by dance arranger Trude Rittman, was added to the second act. There is just a smidgen of Rodgers' music in that precision ballet.
Fox produced an opulent film of the musical in 1957 which garnered an Oscar for Yul Brynner. (It is interesting to note that the role of the king was first offered to Marlon Brando who was unable to do the film because of other movie commitments). Many major regional companies continue to include The King and I in their schedules since it is a "cash cow" and a good hook for older subscribers.
American Musical Theatre of San Jose has spared no expense in presenting this voluminous musical. The large cast consists of very talented Asians in the majority of the roles. Many are local singers and dancers. The twenty-three member orchestra under the direction of Barbara Day Turner is forceful, especially in "March of the Siamese Children" (fabulous with the children marching in to meet Anna) and "Shall We Dance?" The precise "re-creation" of Jerome Robbins' famous "Small House of Uncle Thomas" sequence is truly outstanding.
Debby Boone gives a first-rate performance as Anna. She infuses life and enthusiasm into the role of the teacher, and her voice is mellifluous in all of the songs. Francis Jue gives a gem of a performance as the King of Siam. What he lacks in size, he makes up in performance. He is the perfect egotistical king. They are marvelous in the number "Shall We Dance?"
Three other major voices are in evidence here. Lisa Yuen as Tuptim and Phong Truong as her lover Lun Tha are incomparable in "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." Irene Liu Trapp as Lady Thiang is poignant singing the lovely "Something Wonderful."
Fred Isozaki in the non-singing role of The Kralahome gives a curt but likeable performance. Hector David Pleins gives a nice performance as the young prince. Michael Balderrama is electrifying as Simon of Legree.
Scenic designer Michael Anania has devised some very exotic sets for this lavish musical. The colors are brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. The costumes by Costume World Inc and managed by Marina Agabekov are full of regal reds and shimmering golds. Choreographer Vince Pesce's dancers give elegant, precise movements, especially in the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet. Stephen Bourneuf has staged this musical with reverence to the 1998 revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
The King and I will play at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose through November 12th. For tickets call 1-888-455-SHOW or 408-453-7108 or on line at www.amtsj.org.