Rodgers & Hammerstein’s spectacular production of ‘The King and I’ embarks on its UK tour, having opened at the Liverpool Empire Theatre this week.
Director Bartlett Sher proves that this incredible story really is a timeless creation that keeps going and going!
‘The King and I’ represents the struggles of colonisation, and the battles between Western & Non-Western culture, tradition and modernity in the 1850s. With surrounding countries having already been occupied by the French and the British forces, the King of Siam battles to protect his country and his people, which ultimately comes with compromise, risk of jeopardising their traditional values and sacrificing their disconnection to the Western world.
The story tells the tale of widowed, educated British lady Anna Leonowens, who makes the decision to move to Siam with her son Louis to start a new life and to teach. After her recent heartbreak and after a proposition made by the King which she could not refuse, they embarked on their adventure. The culture divide between the new visitors and the King and his loyal family becomes apparent, and there is hesitation to follow Mrs. Anna’s teachings, which is a world away from what they are used to. As time passes, barriers are dissolved and a blossoming relationship begins to form between Mrs. Anna and her adorable pupils, whilst another dysfunctional relationship develops between her and the King of Siam, one that is both conflicting and captivating.
The production is visually splendid throughout, with effortless transformations of set, from the kingdom, bedroom, classroom, and a particular favourite – the garden setting with exquisite hanging flower vines covering the stage, which provide the perfect romantic hideout for Tuptim and her secret lover. Set designer Michael Yeargan has really gone above and beyond – perfectly captured the accompanying aesthetics alongside each storyline.
Darren Lee perfectly played the new blood King of Siam with western ideas. His commanding and VERY demanding presence supplied the perfect King character, yet he showed a sense of naivety that was endearing and comical. By the Second Act, a first reluctant King was beginning to embrace his new found English vocabulary and the use of his favourite phrase “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”
Annalene Beechey surpassed all expectations and showed commitment to honouring the original Anna Leonowens from the 1950’s film – her character was almost identical. Her remarkable voice wowed the audience and her overall performance was impeccable.
Tuptim played by Jessica Gómes-Ng provided another memorable performance and her song ‘I have dreamed’ was both heartbreaking and beautiful, I have never heard a voice quite like it on the stage, words really cannot do it justice.
Overall the flawless singing was truly impressive, and there was no shortage of spectacular classic musical numbers such as ‘I whistle a happy tune’, ‘Hello young lovers,’ and ‘Something wonderful’ sang by the talented Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang. And, of course, the eagerly anticipated ‘Shall we dance’ did not disappoint. It has been a long time since I have seen a performance where the cast evoked a spine-tingling feeling each time they sang.
In turn there were many stand-out moments, one being the 16 minute ballet in Act Two – the ‘Small house of Uncle Thomas’ – which remained my favourite and in my opinion, the most iconic part of ‘The King and I.’ This is where you begin to really appreciate the skill and talent of all the dancers, mostly made up by the ensemble cast who effortlessly performed the demanding and entertaining choreography. The routine was brave and imaginative and led the Second Act into a darker realm, a credit to choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The costumes designed by Catherine Zuber were also excellent in this section, which included masks and costumes made of beautiful materials to compliment the overall masterpiece.
Words cannot express how breathtaking this performance is, we would highly recommend that you go and see it, you will not be disappointed! There is something in it for everyone to enjoy.
The King and I is at The Liverpool Empire Theatre until Saturday 21 March 2020.