Entertainment & Culture Theatre

The King and I theatre review

Written by Christian Butler

The tremendous Rogers and Hammerstein musical makes a triumphant return to the West End.

A fabulous new revival of The King and I is playing at The Palladium in London’s West End. This classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical is a wonderful spectacle for the whole family.

Direct from Broadway

The production has transferred from a highly acclaimed Broadway run directed by Bartlett Sherr. They’ve brought along the leads from that production, Kelli O’Hara as Anna and Academy award nominee Ken Watanabe as the King. The production was particularly special for O’Hara, after she won her first Tony award for it having previously lost five times!

The story

The musical is inspired by the real-life story of Anna Leonowens, a British teacher who travelled to Siam (now Thailand) in the 19th century. She came to the country teach the many children of the King of Siam. Once she gets there, she finds the King’s wish to modernise at odds with his arrogance, multiple wives and insistence on servitude. The show is a layered exploration of clashing ideologies and how the West and East perceive each other.

The score

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the show’s marvellous score. Their biggest shows include The Sound of Music and Oklahoma! The King and I is one of their lushest of their scores. It features some of their most memorable songs, such as ‘Shall We Dance?’ ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune.’ Rogers’ Golden Age melodies are soaring, but many of the songs having a distinctly Eastern flavour.

The cast

Kelli O’Hara is a renowned Broadway lead. Her beautiful soprano combines with her nuanced performance, both highly moral and elegantly tender. She also puts on a great British accent. As regards to the King, Ken Watanabe may lack a strong singing voice, but he has an astonishing command of his body and voice. His performance wonderfully brings out the confused vulnerability lying under the King’s forceful persona.

The production

The show has a grand but simple set that fills the giant space of the Palladium stage. Unlike the questionable casting of the original production, this new revival has all the Asian characters played by Asian actors. That  includes the King’s numerous small children. The real centrepiece of the show, however, is ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas.’ This quarter of an hour play-within-a-play portrays one of the King’s wives producing an Eastern interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel. With such ironic spectacle, The King and I has old fashioned charm but appears remarkably modern.

For tickets and more info about The King and I, visit kingandimusical.co.uk

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