As advertised widely throughout the twin cities area this February, The King and I has come to town and it has lived up to its reputation. This highly acclaimed production about the dichotomy of the eastern world vs the eastern world, told through the story of an English nanny (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her experience with the royal family of Siam. Within the musical we see the king of Siam (Jose Llana) struggle to understand the way Western culture works as he “gets to know” the strange nanny and her son (Graham Montgomery).
At the start of the production, an enormous ship entered the stage, lit beautifully with oranges and pinks. Kelly could be heard singing flawlessly shortly after the opening scene. My first impressions of the show were that it truly had spared no expense to pull the audience into a world of new cultures and old. The sets were consistently extravagant throughout the show and the standard that Michael Yeargan had set for himself in the opening scenes was only raised as the production continued. The most notable aspect of the show as a whole was the colors that danced across the stage in the form of the sets, lights (Donald Holder), and costumes (Catherine Zuber). I doubt I will ever see as colorful a show in my lifetime. The audience was easily engaged with the story in this way because it made it hard to look away from the stage.
Kelly’s performance as Anna was practically perfect, framed by her magnificent dresses and movement patterns. Her voice seemed to be endlessly dreamlike and it had the most wonderful nostalgic tone to it, necessary for golden age pieces. Montgomery had a clear tone beyond his years and the king’s eldest son (Anthony Chan) was also a standout child performer. My personal favorite voice in the production was that of Joan Ameldilla, who shone every single time she sang. Her acting was similarly impeccable and brought me almost to tears when she attempted to protect the young lovers in refuge from the king’s guards.
Alongside the talented cast and crew of the show, came a moment that I consider one of the most transcendent theatrical experiences of my life: the ballet during the King’s production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. This ballet was a wonderful interlude to the show and while I imagine I would usually be bored of something like it, I was entranced. It lasted for a good 20 minutes of the show at least and while watching I felt like if the show consisted of entirely that I would have been just as happy. The lead dancer in it balanced on one foot almost the entire dance. Once again, the production crew shone brightly, as the costumes were another great part about the dance. The three ‘backup’ dancers were wearing full masks while the lead wasn’t wearing one at all. The costumes were all vibrantly colored and at times of peril the lighting would shift completely and the narration of the story would be so frightening that real fear was felt in the theater. The whole ambiance of the scene contributed to the choreography a lot and showcased each dancer’s talent effectively. If you appreciate having colorful, nostalgic, and one of a kind theater experiences, I suggest seeing The King and I at the Orpheum this week.