Thursday, 12 June 2014

The King and I, June 12, 2014 ***1/2

Music by Richard Rogers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on novel by Margaret Langdon
Princes Theatre, Melbourne, until Aug 31, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published  online in Herald Sun and in print on News pages June 13. KH


In an exotic and sumptuous display of crimson and gold finery, Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s enormously popular musical, The King and I, bursts onto the Princess Theatre stage with its parade of memorable and singable tunes.

The musical is based on a 1944 novel inspired by the memoir of Anna Leonowens, British governess to the King of Siam’s children during the 1860s.

As part of his plan to modernise Siam (Thailand), The King of Siam (Jason Scott Lee) invites Anna (Lisa McCune) to educate his numerous children and wives about Western customs and the English language.

Anna argues persistently with the King about her contract that forces her to live in the palace, about his outmoded views, his treatment of his slaves, and the ‘kowtowing’ that compels all his subjects to bow deeply before him.

Scott Lee and McCune make the most of the conflict between the King and Anna that is heightened by the unspoken but palpable attraction between the two characters.

They express the hidden love between the pair in Shall We Dance? when they perform a lively but intimate polka during which McCune glides gracefully as Anna, and Lee gallops gleefully like a playful puppy as the King.

McCune is elegant and gracious as Anna, and her tuneful soprano is suited to the brightness of songs such as Whistle A Happy Tune and Getting to Know You, and she eloquently performs the poignant ballad, Hello, Young Lovers, although her voice lacks depth and resonance.

Scott Lee finds the humour and dynamism in the competitive, feisty, pompous, but often bemused Siamese tyrant, and has fun with the King’s struggle with the English language in A Puzzlement.

A highlight of the show is Jerome Robbins’ dramatic choreography for the narrated ballet, Small House of Uncle Thomas, an inspired vision of asymmetrical, rhythmic movement that echoes Siamese traditional dance.

Of course, the voices of the King’s 13 children provide not only the bright tones of a youthful chorus, but a cuteness factor of about 100, particularly when greeting ‘Mrs. Anna’ during The March of the Siamese Children.

Chinese-born opera singer, Shu-Cheen Yu, is charming and dignified as Lady Thiang, the King’s number one wife, and reveals her thrillingly rich voice when she sings Something Wonderful in support of her husband.

Christopher Renshaw’s production and Peter Casey’s musical direction pay homage to Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s incomparable music and lyrics, while Roger Kirk’s costumes and Brian Thompson’s design provide a vision of vivid opulence.

Adrian Li Donni, as Lun Tha, has a warm tone when singing We Kiss in A Shadow, but, as his lover, Tuptim, the Burmese slave, Jenny Liu lacks vocal control in her top register. While make a pretty couple, their voices do not blend well in I Have Dreamed, and their onstage relationship is disappointingly passionless in their clandestine trysts.

John Adams is amusing as the toffy Sir Edward Ramsay and Marty Rhone is suitably brusque as The Kralahome, the King’s authoritative Prime Minister.

The King and I is ‘bright and breezy’, to quote Getting To Know You, and it will provide a cheerful and entertaining night in the theatre for the whole family.

By Kate Herbert

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