The King and I – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review by Patrick Viale
21 May 2019 – 1 Jun 2019
It is hard to imagine The King and I without the iconic figure of Yul Brynner strutting about the stage, imperiously inviting his children’s governess, Anna, to join him in the ballroom with the celebrated “Shall We Dance?”. Winner of a Tony and an Oscar for the role, he played the King a record 4,625 times! However, the audience at Lincoln Centre Theater’s lavish revival of the musical, now running at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, with Jose Llana in the role, will take away memories of an exhilarating production that leaves them “whistling a happy tune” all the way to the bus stop or the Dart.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is based on the book Anna and the King of Siam, written in 1944 by Margaret Landon. The book took inspiration from the memoirs of a lady called Anna Leonowens, who spent several years living among the Siamese royal Family, teaching English to the royal wives and children. King Mongkut, an admirer of President Lincoln and Queen Victoria, was determined to modernise his kingdom and felt it important to educate his wives and children in Western culture.
The sometimes fraught clash between the autocratic King and the feisty Anna, an English widow with a young son, is at the centre of the musical, contrasting with the doomed romance of Tuptim, a young slave girl who has been given to Mongkut as a gift from the King of Burma to be one of his wives, and the man she secretly loves, Lun Tha.
From the moment the curtain rose on this production, the audience was enthralled. The arrival of Anna and her son into a noisy Bangkok on a large ship, which was then skilfully dismantled to form other props on stage, gave us an idea of what an impressive and opulent entertainment lay in store for us. And when Irish-trained Annalene Beechey, in the role of Anna, sang “I Whistle a Happy Tune” to calm her son, frightened by the spectacle on the quayside, we knew that the musical quality was on a par with the visual.
It is hard to write of this production without seeming to overpraise. The staging, direction, choreography, singing and acting were all of the highest standard and the rapt attention of the audience throughout said it all. Jose Llana gave a more nuanced performance than Brynner’s film version. He was perfect in the role. Beechey is obviously a rising star; both her singing and acting were superb. A real revelation was Kamm Kunaree as Tuptim who was probably the best singer on stage. Her two duets “We Sing in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” were the musical highlights of the evening.
Perfectly synchronised choreography completed this delightful production, the seamless “March of the Siamese Children” almost convincing us that all seventy-seven of the King’s children were on stage! The high point of the whole evening, however, must be the magical balletic retelling of “The Small House of Uncle Tom”, a fusion of music, movement and set that was absolutely stunning.
I can’t imagine a better production of a musical comedy than this. It is certainly the best I’ve seen and if you can still get a ticket for it, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.
The King and I continues in the Bord Gais Theatre until June 1st.