In the American musical theatre canon, the works of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are often lauded as some of the greatest pieces of theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s pieces are classic archetypical musical productions, 1951's The King and I included. The Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony Award winning revival production of the classic show is filled with exuberance from both the cast and the technical elements. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this production is able to take a classic show and still make it relevant and exciting over sixty years later. The lessons taught in The King and I are just as profound today as they were when the show was written and when it took place.
The King and I tells the story of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens who travels to Siam in the 1860s to educate the Royal Children. Anna is portrayed by Laura Michelle Kelly, in a dazzling performance. Kelly is a gifted performer, having won an Olivier Award for originating Mary Poppins in London. Her British charm shines through in both her acting and her singing. Kelly’s powerful performance was met with an equally powerful performance from Jose Llana, who plays the King. His portrayal as the puzzled and conflicted leader is strong and convincing. The chemistry between Kelly and Llana perfectly encompasses Anna and The King, and culminates in the final thrilling scenes of the show. A very strong supporting cast, including a slew of young performers, rounds out the production in a wonderful manner.
While the cast itself is phenomenal, the technical elements of The King and I are what make it truly remarkable. Set designer Michael Yeargan immediately captures the audience from the moment they step foot into the theater. A large ornate gold curtain illuminates the stage and is quite captivating. When the show begins, the first set piece seen is a replica of a ship, which elicits audible affirmations from the audience. Throughout the show, various pillars and wall designs are used to illustrate different places in the King’s palace. Overall, the set is intricate, exquisite, and completely enthralls the audience in the story. Perhaps even better than the set is the lighting design by Donald Holder. Holder’s use of vibrant colors effectively portrays the country of Siam. The first scene is layered with rich reds and oranges that reflect the South-Asian sunset they need to. Throughout the rest of the show, various shades of yellow and purple are used as well. The warm color scheme worked exceedingly well in creating the mystic of Siam. Watching the technical elements of The King and I is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece in vivid colors and grandeur.
Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, which is based on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, deserves a note of praise. The ballet movement throughout the show is elegant and consuming to watch. All of the dance sequences are executed with ease. Perhaps one of the most glorious moments of the show is “Shall We Dance?”, in which Anna and the King sail across the palace dancing.
With the current political climate of the world, The King and I resonates more than ever. Anna’s lessons of equality and open mindedness ring true today. The show sends an important message that anyone can take away from. This, combined with the spectacular cast and technical elements makes the show truly something wonderful.