The King and I, based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her son as they arrive in Siam. Anna has been hired to be a teacher for The King of Siam’s children and wives in a epic clash of cultures and opinions. The relationship between The King of Siam (Jose Llana) and Anna is comparable to a choreographed tug-of-war and is portrayed through spectacular acting.
Since The King and I’s premiere in 1951, it has been considered a Rodgers and Hammerstein theater classic. The 2017 production by The Ambassador Theater Group has upheld that reputation. With orchestrations by Richard Russell Bennett and an orchestra conducted by Gerald Steichen, the music is stunning, even if it does loiter at times. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is strong but never forced making for pleasant listening. Both she and Jose Llana are able to fill their voices with intense emotion that adds more layers to their characters and their characters’ contrasts. Jose Llana is a perfect king, stubborn and trying to do his best. His accent is melodic but he is still rather easy to understand. Llana and Kelly carry their characters as constants for each other and it makes many of the internal conflicts of The King and I more moving than the external conflicts.
The King and I is a historical drama that is laced with humor. Though there is conflict in the coming together of the East and the West, there is an abundance of humor to be found in the script. The audience laughed often and the repeated words of “ectera, ectera, ectera..” could be heard in the lobby bother at intermission and after the show. Many parts of the show were applicable to situations in modern life and that helped the audience connect with The King and I and its characters.
The set and costumes were magnificent, a beautiful mix of elaborate and simple. Anna’s dresses were large with hooped skirts in simple colors and basic patterns. Likewise, Louis, Captain Orton, and any set pieces from the anyplace outside of Siam were clad in plain colors and were muted compared to the striking colors used to depict Siam. Lady Thiang and the king’s other wives were dressed in opulent tones matching to the region: even after the king’s death, the ensemble was costumed in white, the traditional mourning color in Siam (now modern Thailand). The set, though few pieces, was crafted beautifully and used to create a variety of backdrops through flowing scene changes.
Though The King and I drags on at points, the actors do a wonderful job at making it a worthwhile show. If you’re willing to have a little patience, the run time can be overlooked for the over all majesty that is The King and I.