Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of Christine Ebersole with Seth Rudetsky and Rob Kapilow: What Makes It Great? Finishing the Hat: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim
The story begins when Anna Leonowens arrives in 1860s Siam to become the English schoolteacher for the King's children. Not only does Anna teach the children, along with the King's wives, but she also has a positive impact on other people in the kingdom. The King is interested in Western ways and, even though they disagree on many things, through his relationship with Anna he becomes a much better man. The King's son, who is next in line for the throne, also realizes through his interactions with Anna that progress is necessary and that the way in which the King rules can be a positive thing.
The score features such classic tunes as "Shall We Dance," "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Something Wonderful." It also includes a beautiful dance sequence in the second act, "Small House of Uncle Thomas," a dramatic ballet based on "Uncle Tom's Cabin," that mirrors the lives of some of the people of Siam who are treated like slaves. For this production, that piece uses Jerome Robbins' iconic original choreography, here restaged beautifully by Christopher Gattelli.
Director Bartlett Sher, who also directed the Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, clearly understands the depth of the material and the intricacies of the relationships between the characters. His cast all create genuine, nuanced and meaningful characters with deep emotional connections to each other. Sher also stages the action effectively, with the use of Donald Holder's pinpoint lighting, to ensure the audience's attention is always focused on important details, and the cast all deliver excellent facial expressions and reactions so we always know what their characters are feeling.
Elena Shaddow and Jose Llana both create layered, emotionally rich portrayals of Anna and the King, respectively. Llana was a replacement King in the recent Broadway revival, and he also played a smaller role in the Broadway revival in the mid-1990s. So he clearly has a deep history with this musical which shows from his expert performance that is infused with humor and strength. Shaddow is simply stunning in the part of Anna, which is even more exceptional since press night of the Tempe run was her first time playing the role in this tour. Both Shaddow and Llana exhibit the requisite stubbornness and strength of these characters beautifully with rich, pure singing voices that excel on their solos.
Joan Almedilla is lovely as Lady Thiang, the King's main wife. Her rendition of "Something Wonderful" is beautifully sung and she also brings a wonderful sense of refinement and a nice emotional depth to this woman. Q Lim and Kavin Panmeechao are very good as the secondary set of lovers who find their relationship at odds with the King, and Charlie Oh and Rhyees Stump do well as Anna's son Louis and the King's son Prince Chulalongkorn, respectively. Also, Brian Rivera makes a strong impression as the King's prime minister.
Michael Yeargan's scenic design is very impressive in the opening scene, where we see a large replica of the boat that Anna and Louis sail on to Bangkok, though the rest of his design is fairly minimal, with only a few large moving columns to designate the various rooms in the palace. Catherine Zuber's Tony-winning costume designs are infused with rich detail and excellent period touches. Her gowns for Anna are beautiful, with the one she wears during "Shall We Dance" exceptional. Donald Holder's lighting adds changing deep hues of reds, oranges and blues that help set the range of moods in the show. The combination of Ted Sperling's musical direction with Gerald Steichen's precise conducting of the large 17-piece orchestra and Scott Lehrer's clear sound design deliver a lush sound to Rodgers' music and clarity to Hammerstein's lyrics.
With an excellent cast and beautiful creative elements, the national tour of Lincoln Center's revival of The King and I is an emotionally rich and extremely satisfying production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
The King and I, through March 25th, 2018, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. More information on the tour can be found at thekinganditour.com
Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Book by
Oscar Hammerstein II; Based on the novel "Anna and the King of Siam" by