Thursday, 15 July 2010

The King and I ***1/2

The King and I
By Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, by The Production Company
State Theatre, Arts Centre, until July 15 to 25, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

The Arts Centre whistles a happy tune during Rodgers and Hammerstein’s much-loved musical, The King and I. The enthusiastic crowd hums along with the impressive repertoire of evergreen tunes including: I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers, Getting to Know You, We Kiss in a Shadow, Something Wonderful and the joyful Shall We Dance? Remember the movie with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr?

It is an exotic romance about the King of Siam (Juan Jackson) who introduces Western culture to his country by employing the plain-speaking, elegant, English widow, Anna Leonowens (Chelsea Gibb), to tutor his dozens of children and wives in his Royal Palace. It is timeless and timely, dealing with culture clash, resistance to modernisation and colonialism.

The muscular, youthful Jackson looks striking as the arrogant, child-like King struggling to defend outmoded traditions. Jackson’s voice is warm and resonant and his character is most effective when he sings. Gibb is suitably bossy and proper as Anna, enunciating with rounded, English vowels. However, Anna’s brisk speaking style transfers into a slightly brittle vocal tone in Gibb’s singing.

The show starts slowly but takes off by interval.  Director, Terence O’Connell, and musical director, Peter Casey, stage this engaging musical with a versatile, on-stage band, Alana Scanlan’s Asian-influenced choreography, an exotic set (Kathryn Sproul) and vivid costumes (Kim Bishop).

One highlight is Silvie Paladino’s perfectly controlled, poignant rendition of Something Wonderful as Lady Thiang, the King’s loyal, number-one wife. Another is The Little House of Uncle Tom, a play within the play, narrated by little Tuptim (Emily Xiao Wang). O’Connell combines deceptively simple, theatrical devices, Asian imagery and clever choreography to tell a story of love, slavery, escape and death that echoes the story of the King’s oppression of Tuptim.

Adrian Li Donni and Xiao Wang are in fine voice as the star-crossed lovers, George Henare is commanding as the traditionalist Kralahome, and there are crowds of cute children to make us smile and coo.

By Kate Herbert

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