ANNA AND THE KING ARE A PUZZLEMENT,
BUT WHISTLE A HAPPY TUNE
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” the classic love story musical that debuted on Broadway in 1951, still has that wonderful feeling of west vs eastern culture. The Tri-Valley Repertory summer musical is very well crafted. It sits along the side the Broadway comeback now at Vivian Theatre in New York. The buzz for this musical has been on top of all the Broadway.com sites including the fact that we have some Bay Area talent in the Tony winning reboot in New York. This cast now on stage at the Bankhead in Livermore Ca. maybe just as talented. Yet the fact that Tri-Valley had to fill out the cast of color with some non asian actors, a bit sad since the East Bay is full of so many asian players. But beyond that the Tri-Valley production is impressive.
Director Carol Hovey takes few liberties with the revived show about a British teacher who goes to Siam to educate the king’s children. "The actual history is different from the romanticized version," said director Carol Hovey. "I've made, with the cast, a very concerted effort to be true to history as well as true to the history of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Anna's melodramatic interpretation was very much to please British and American audiences," Hovey said. "I find it important to remain true to who those people were." Hovey first directed "The King and I" 23 years ago for the Pleasanton Playhouse, that is now the Tri-Valley Rep.
As the tempestuous King of Siam, DC Scarpelli commands the stage with flawless timing and that sense of entitlement. He is excellent in the King’s big number, “A Puzzlement,” in which the monarch ponders the perils of nudging his country into modernity. As Anna, the teacher, local favorite Rachel Powers brings a strong and pleasing voice to “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Getting to Know You.” She has a sharp comic timing and a teacher’s patience in debates with her royal boss.
Hovey staged a marvelous version of “March of the Siamese Children” a heart warming stream of the 26 children in the cast. The King has actually 87 kids but Anna only meets the children in royal favor with the King. The darling children stand alongside their proud moms and Kings wifes. Set in Siam 1860 (now Thailand) “The King and I” is based loosely on the actual life of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who was hired by King Mongkut to educate his many children by his favored wives. A widow with a young son, Louis (talented Dylan Cazin), Anna loves to argue with the King over everything.
The cast of the mostly Asian and Pacific Island ancestry who take on the Siamese and Burmese roles work against any stereotyping in the script with rich acting and wonderful voices. Rodgers and Hammerstein were famously progressive, the show is still 64 years old and remains fresh.
The supporting cast is strong beginning with Mandy Leung as Tuptim, the Burmese concubine sent to the King as a gift, is operatic and dramatic power when she sings of her enslavement and love for another in “My Lord and Master.” As her secret lover Lun Tha, the dynamic Brian Palac matches Leung vocally, with understated heat in their duets “We Kiss In a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” Anita Colotto shines as the head wife Lady Thiang and her classic solo “Something Wonderful”. Dylan Cazin and Alec Zhang, the two teen young men who play Louis and Prince Chulalongkorn are accomplished in their reprise of “A Puzzlement”. Zhang is esspecially a high light in the Kings shadow, he is a young actor who has a solid stage presents.
Ed Wang is particularly fine as the King’s cautious prime minister, the Kralahome. In the dance sequence, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” Siamese characters perform their own version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” proves Hoveys graceful staging, choreographed by Megan McGrath and Katherine Stein, doesn’t have the ballet flair of the original, but for new audiences the freedom message still rings true.
The set is a rental but very elegant, that frames the actors well, and perfect for Anna and the King to twirl upon in “Shall We Dance?” The lighting by the pro Paul Vega is simple but spot on. The simplicity of the sets off the glittering costumes and gold filigree headgear from designer Mary Cravens from the Palo Alto Players. Anna’s icon staid hoop skirts are appropriately the style, until she goes for off-the-shoulder silk at the King’s feast. Music Director Jo Anne Fosselman has a full orchestra that is superb, and the full ensemble rich sound from the cast is outstanding.
The final scene of this story is always touching and Hovey ended the musical with a wonderful silhouette of the family and their new future. The sold out opening night crowd was on their feet as the show ended. It did go a bit long that I am sure will tighten up. I also wanted to note that in a scene with the King as he threatens to whip Tuptim, at opening night a service dog barked at Scarpelli adding to the drama. DC Scarpelli did not skip a beat, and the audience loved it. This King and Anna - is a perfect musical for your family summer evening or afternoon in Livermore. The show is splendid, KING AND I runs through August 2nd at the Bankhead Theatre.
Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre Presents:
The King & I
July 18 – Aug 2, 2015
Directed by Carol Hovey, Produced by Katheen Breedveld
Music Director Jo Anne Fosselman
Performances are 8pm Fri/Sat and 2pm Sun,
The Bankhead Theater.
Through Aug. 2. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, go to the Bankhead Theater box office at 2400 First St. in Livermore, call 925-373-6800 or go to tickets.livermoreperformingarts.org.
photos by Robert Sholty and DC Scarpelli
*Hovey quoted from the PLEASANTON WEEKLY