If I had brought my father along to "The King and I", I can guarantee he would be asleep within the first 10 minutes of this production. I found myself turning to a friend next to me and asking, "How soon is intermission?", something incredibly unusual for someone as appreciative of theatre as me. An incredibly slow moving plot with little advancement in one story, serious lack of flow, and questionably applied connotations to assimilation mixed with a three hour performance was exhausting.
The production began with impressively poor diction for the level of theatre I was expecting. Both those around me and I had trouble understanding the first couple scenes. As the show progressed, diction improved, but other elements declined. There were leads to multiple different stories introduced with little context or introduction to the characters, resulting in little investment in the story. It was unclear how these stories connected. I was very thrown by the amount of scenes with absolutely no context that felt awkwardly placed with little substance. These factors impeded the ability to focus on one story or one point that was being made. Act 1 was purely a distracted, and frankly boring, mess.
Act 2 finally reached some sort of climax in the recently nonsensical plot. Some connections were made with the many plot lines, but somehow character relationships had changed in a way that the audience did not get to see. The most interesting part of the show was the story within the play, in the number "The Small House of Uncle Thomas". Great choreography and musical effects kept me interested and engaged for the first time in the show. In fairness, the set was carefully chosen throughout the play and worked with the historical context. The actors/actresses had well chosen and beautiful voices, but they couldn't compensate for the poorly executed plot. Humor was embedded semi-successfully, but the joke of "etcetera, etcetera" was so overused that by the 50th time of hearing it, only silence rang through the Orpheum.
The sense of humor was sometimes offensive and disrespectful to Asian cultures. Worse than that, there was a major theme of assimilation in the play. There is a crucial difference between a British school teacher (Anna, played by Laura Michelle Kelly) coming to spread Western innovations and knowledge and that teacher making fun of the way they pray and their polygamy. The point, in my opinion, was to stress cultural differences and the cultural shock that Anna experienced, but this was poorly executed. I think Asian women dressed up in English hoop skirts to make Bangkok seem "civilized" surpasses cultural shock.
As if this all wasn't confusing enough, the production had a terrible use of time. Suddenly a year had passed with only a subtle reference for the audience to understand the change. To be fair, it did feel like I was watching the show for about that long. I feel sorry for the talented voices that the overall story failed their characters