Not to state the obvious, but three hours is quite a long musical. Which is why I was so surprised when The King and I ended and I found myself wishing for more. The King and I, playing at the Orpheum Theatre from February 28 through March 5, tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) becoming a schoolteacher for the children and wives of the King of Siam (Jose Llana) in 1862. This Rogers and Hammerstein classic is an ambitious undertaking, but this production, directed by Bartlett Sher, delivers both a beautiful period piece and an entertaining performance that remains relevant to modern life.
The superb cast brought not only remarkable talent, but also unfailing energy and life that carried the show throughout. Kelly’s voice was breathtaking. It fit the music so well and with such ease that it was as though the score were written for her. She depicted Anna’s spirited nature with unfaltering vigor, despite the length of the show and her bulky period costume. Llana, too, perfectly captured the complexities of his character, who struggles between ideals of tradition and progress, and brought an unexpected amount of relatable humor to a show set in 1860s Bangkok. Joan Almedilla, who played Lady Thiang, also had a beautiful voice, and portrayed her character with a contrasting but equally respectable energy to that presented by Kelly. Truly, every member of the cast, even the youngest children, provided consistent characterization, exhibited commendable technique, and kept up with the changing tones of the story as it swung from satirical to romantic to tragic. The short ballet within the show, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, was especially noteworthy. In this piece, the ensemble delivered a beautiful and emotional performance that was so engaging I almost forgot it existed within another story.
The technical aspects of the show were just as impressive as the performance, and worked in harmony with the actors and the story. A moving boat set against a shadowy sunset immediately catches your attention in the first few moments, and the main set uses moving pillars and a wall in the background, along with other removable pieces and props, to simply but effectively suggest different areas of the palace. Each character had multiple costumes, all of which were visually stunning and gave each character a distinctive look while simultaneously creating an organized picture with the other characters and even the set. As with the cast, each aspect of tech within the show, including lights, sound, and the incredibly talented orchestra, was consistently strong and interacted beautifully with the story and characters.
Every production element and cast member was loyal to the story and characters, and worked together seamlessly to provide an engaging and artistic performance. For the sake of argument, I tried to find something negative to say about The King and I and, though I’m sure there were flaws, none stood to me out enough to be worth remembering or writing about. I enjoyed some beautiful music, laughed, nearly cried, and had an all-around incredible experience that I can honestly say I would recommend to anyone.