I’m ashamed to admit that the extent of my knowledge of The King and I was that episode of Friends when Rachel gets an eye infection. But now, the multi award-winning Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fifth musical is touring the UK following its critically-acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium – and has docked at Hanley’s The Regent Theatre until Saturday, June 3.
Based loosely on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, the musical is inspired by margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam, both of which sparked the popular 1956 film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.
The production has won a total of four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Revival, and having now witnessed this golden age musical directed under Bartlett Sher, it’s clear to see why.
The King and I stars the West End’s Annalene Beechey as Anna, a British school teacher hired by The King of Siam – portrayed by Broadway’s Darren Lee – in a bid to educate his wives and children. Though it transpires that it is actually he who she appears to truly educate, despite a tumultuous and conflicted relationship.
Annalene’s headstrong Anna brings her modern feminist values to the East, displaying elegance, grace and decorum, her vocals soaring through the absolutely wonderful score, including Whistle a Happy Tune and Getting To Know You.
She is met by the equally wilful King, with audiences warming to Darren Lee’s character as he softens towards his employee and comes round to her way of thinking. The actors’ razor sharp wit brough unexpected humour to the production, with impeccable comic timing. His character development throughout the near three-hour show was a joy to watch unfold, both heartwarming and heart wrenching in equal measure.
The duo’s chemistry on stage was totally charming as they display an internal struggle of a love to which neither can admit, displaying vulnerabilities in the tender Shall We Dance.
The soundtrack to the lavish production is performed by a full-scale orchestra, who delicately perform the intricate pieces to which contemporary and ballet choreography is beautifully executed.
The supporting cast and world-class company of over 50 West End and Broadway performers bring The King and I to life with enchanting vocals and character portrayal, but it is the striking exhibition of The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ in the second act that shows what magic can be made when working together.
I did find some parts of the production somewhat long-winded, and could have easily shaved about 20 minutes off the run time given a red pen and script, but it always managed to recapture my attention through its stunning costumes and breathtaking set, mesmerised by hardworking lighting that really complemented the actors on stage.
At times the interwoven story of Tuptim and Lun Tha appeared to be disconnected from the rest of the show – despite being superbly performed, with gorgeous vocals from Marienelle Phillips – but towards the end, it all came together, however, it would be nice for this to have felt more integrated.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant and cultural performance, and watching the relationships between the different characters bloom, but it is safe to say that the partnership between Annalene and Darren really shone in this charming production.
Regal and romantic, The King and I boasts everything there is to love about the golden age of musicals, with an fantastic combination of sets, styling, songs and stories depicting the grandeur of Siam, with effortlessly emotive performances delivered by an extraordinarily talented cast.
The King and I is at The Regent Theatre until Saturday, June 3. You can buy tickets to see the show here.
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