THERE ARE TWO KINGS IN TOWN FOR THE FALL - THE LION AND KING OF SIAM - BUT ANNA AND THE KING
IS A NOT TO BE MISSED CLASSIC
Another KING is in town for the holiday - and he is a classic icon of Broadway. 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. This shinning production is the first leg of the national tour Tony winning revival of THE KING AND I now on stage at the Golden Gate Theatre through Dec 11th. Directed by Bartlett Sher, his production stays classic to the original, yet he does add the use of the children more than I have seen in the past. The gorgeous opening as Anna arrives with her son on the ship, the cast is there to greet her, including the children spread throughout boats on the sea. Sher keeps the new look grand and elegant with the East meets West drama still the at the heart. The score is always breathtaking and so many classic Broadway songs are part of this love story. “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” opens the two hour and 50 minute musical, and it will remain with you after you leave the King and Anna.
This national tour featuring the beautiful choreography of Christopher Gattelli, who based his work on Jerome Robbins original concept, is very well crafted. 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 tour. The stoic local favorite Brian Rivera, who plays the King's right hand man, Kralahome, is an SFSU theatre grad and he says “I’m back here in this awesome place, with my old friends and family watching in the house. It’s such a wonderful and blessed thing that I cannot trade it”. Anthony Chan who is cast as the King's son, Prince Chulalongkorn, is an East Bay actor who was seen in many SJ Stage company productions. His reprise of “A Puzzlement” is marvelous and Sher was smart to cast an older boy to play the prince. Stephanie Lo, who appears in the ensemble and Royal Court is also from Bay Area stages and is amazed she is part of “Run Eliza Run” ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”.
The story of “Anna and the King of Siam” is based on the book by Margaret Landon about a British teacher who goes to Siam to educate the king’s children. The actual history is different from the romanticized version. The revival is 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.
As the tempestuous King of Siam, the powerful Jose Llana commands the stage with flawless timing and that sense of entitlement. Llana is from the original revival of “King” at the Lincoln center. Director Sher says, "He brings such joy and virility and strength to the King. He is one of Broadway's great talents." 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, the brilliant Laura Michelle Kelly 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
Director Sher staged a marvelous version of “March of the Siamese Children” a heartwarming stream of the 16 adorable 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 the King’s wives. A note about this talented cast of children is dealing with California state labor laws. The very young under 10 year olds in the cast are not in the second act due to California’s strict laws for youth and labor. But its does not take away from any of the wonderful charm with this stunning musical. 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. Anna, a widow with a young son, Louis (talented Graham Montgomery), loves to argue with the King over everything. Montgomery is perfect as the youngster dealing with his mother's sharp opinions and criticisms of her chief.
The cast who are mostly Asian and Pacific Island ancestry take on the Siamese and Burmese roles working against any stereotyping in the script with rich acting and wonderful voices. Rodgers and Hammerstein were famously progressive, the show is at 64 years old remains fresh. The supporting cast is strong beginning with Manna Nichols as Tuptim, the Burmese concubine, sent to the King as a gift, is operatic and dramatically powerful when she sings of her enslavement and love for another in “My Lord and Master.” As her secret lover, Lun Tha, the dynamic Kavin Panmeechao matches Leung vocally, with understated heat in their duets “We Kiss In a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” Joan Almedilla shines as the head wife, Lady Thiang, and her classic solo “Something Wonderful”. Montgomery and Chan, the two young men who play Louis and Prince Chulalongkorn are accomplished in their reprise of “A Puzzlement” and their concern about their parents’ blooming friendship..
Music Coordinator David Lai and conductor Gerald Steichen lead an exceptional musical performance that alone could steal the evening. Michael Yeargan’s Oriental set designs are eye popping beginning with the arrival of Anna and her son on a full size ship and a giant gold Buddha. Donald Holder’s lighting is rich with splendor creating the open sea and the ongoing palace fireworks. The simplicity of the sets, the glittering costumes and gold filigree headgear from costume designer Catherine Zuber show off the classic 19th Century hoop skirts. Anna’s iconic skirts are appropriately styled until she goes for off-the-shoulder silk at the King’s feast. The wives are lovely in their hoop skirts in bright colors and made of silk.
Brian Rivera is a stand out and unforgettable 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.” This proves Sher’s graceful staging, choreographed by Gattelli and Trude Rittmann, it is compelling, and the dancers, many of the children in the cast, are polished including LaMae Caparas as Eliza who is foolproof.
The iconic waltz with Anna and the King in “Shall We Dance?” is grand and the stunning set moves with them as they both dance. The final scene of this story is always touching and Sher 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. Everyone in this cast is smashing and enthusiastic. This King and Anna is a perfect musical for your family holiday evening or afternoon in at SHN. And yes, it can be an expensive family night out. But SHN offers some great deals, including $40.00 cash only rush seats that go on sale two hours before curtain time only at the box office. This KING AND I “Is Something Wonderful” and is not to be missed.
THE KING AND I’
By Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Bartlett Sher, Choreographer Christopher Gattelli
Through Dec. 11
Golden Gate Theatre,
1 Taylor St., San Francisco
Tickets: 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com
Running Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Tickets at https://www.shnsf.com/Online/default.asp
Photo Credit: MATTHEW MURPHY
Interview clip from Susan McDonald - The Providence Journal.