I wasn’t expecting much from The King And I. The renowned Rodgers and Hammerstein musical seemed rather lengthy to me, at approximately three hours with intermission, and furthermore, I worried that it would be outdated and racially insensitive. Thankfully, the show managed to go far above and beyond my expectations, with beautiful voices, and an interesting message.
The performers in the show were simply wonderful. Laura Michelle Kelly dazzled the audience with her gorgeous voice as she played a young English woman, named Anna, who packed up her life to go tutor the many children (and wives) of the King of Siam (Jose Llana). Her voice wasn’t the only impressive one on stage; nearly all of the performers displayed and impressive range, most notably Joan Almedilla, who plays the King’s first wife, and Anthony Chan, who plays her son.
I was also impressed- and pleased- by the obvious dramaturgy that went into the show. The costumes were beautiful, and the set pieces were elegant and eye-catching. There were a lot of beautiful traditional Siamese dances that, frankly, I would have gladly watched as their own production. The revival captured the spirit of the Siam without the stereotypical and offensive air that the original production had in abundance, and that was quite a relief. In fact, the show appeared to display undertones of attacks on racism and sexism, while simultaneously addressing the age-old question that surrounds the aforementioned topics when they’re approached from the perspective of an intense cultural divide that spans not just people, but nations: at what point has one gone from pointing out injustice to insulting a culture they just don’t understand, and can you do both at the same time? The musical never really answered the question it posed, but I think that’s for the best, as it made me think about it more, which seems to have been the point.
Overall, I had a wonderful experience going to see The King and I. I still think it was a little long for my taste, and although it definitely made me think about the nature of race relations, there were still lines here and there that caused me to cringe (as tends to happen with older musicals). All that said, the cast was exceptional, the costume and set design were both gorgeous, the choreography was beautiful, and the show as a whole was definitely worth seeing.