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No expense has been spared for the lavish setting of The King and I at the London Palladium. The stage has been framed by huge red elephants as high as the stage itself, decorated in gold and bejewelled with their blue eyes sparkling as if with real sapphires. The boxes have been adorned with Thai processional motifs and the musical opens with Buddhist monks in their saffron robes, waving incense and ringing bells descending from theses boxes. The curtain rises to a sailing ship, busy with the activity of a port and there in the first of her six-feet crinolines is Elaine Paige as Anna Leonowens, the widow who has taken the post of governess to the King of Siam's children and we are straight into "Whistle a Happy Tune".
The King and I
Set in 1862, The King and I is based on the real story, recently filmed as Anna and the King with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. The King and I was written in 1951 and maybe attitudes have changed more in the last half century that in the near century between 1862 and 1950. The picture of Thailand is clearly not intended to give offence but it is politically charged as an issue.
To answer the question on many lips as to whether Jason Scott Lee (The King of Siam) could match the magnificent Yul Brynner, who made the role his own on film as well as the stage, Jason Scott Lee enthralls . Bare footed, legs astride, close cropped hair, magnificently toned, clad in beaded jackets and silk draped trousers, he is the epitome of eye candy. He has a particular, staccato way of delivering his lines and raising his eyebrows in mock surprise, which amuses and endears. Lee gets the king's volatility and unpredictability exactly right Like Brynner, he almost talks through his solo song, about the dilemma of being a king, "A Puzzlement".
Elaine Paige (Anna) has a beautiful voice although she looks somewhat matronly to be the object of the King's affections, but this may cheer matrons everywhere!
The children of course are delightful. "The March of the Siamese Children" is a pretty march and these small tots (the eldest playing the Crown Prince is eleven years old) steal the show.
The side plot about the Burmese lovers who run afoul of the Siamese regime, Princess Tuptim (Aura Deva) and Luan Tha (Sean Ghazi) gives us three beautiful superbly sung ballads, two of them love songs and duets: "My Lord and Master", "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed". This pair also inspires Anna's ballad, the well known "Hello Young Lovers". Lady Thiang, the most senior of the wives (Taewon Yi Kim) acts sedately as is her role, but her song "Something Wonderful" is movingly beautiful.
The Siamese ballets are well done. The "Royal Dance before the King", with traditional pointed gold Thai head dresses and fingers extended with long gold, curved talons will please dance enthusiasts. The Siamese dance interpretation in the second act of Uncle Tom's Cabin, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is excitingly choreographed with mime and ballet as the villain Simon of LeGree high jumps across the stage with other dancers dressed as dogs and soldiers, causing the slave family to shake in terror as he. for a few moments, when Anna, in a gorgeous cream satin crinoline, dances the rousing polka "Shall We Dance" with the King, we can believe in the romantic attraction.
The show had taken £7 million in advance sales before a single word had been written by the critics and it is booking now into 2001. It's a period piece so don't expect it to conform to modern ideas or even to be an accurate picture of life in Thailand then or now. Go for the pretty tunes, the beautiful costumes, the choreography and the soaring sets!
|THE KING AND I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Christopher Renshaw
Starring: Elaine Paige and Jason Scott Lee
With: Richard Avery, Christopher Hawkins/Benjamin Ibbott, Miguel Diaz, Ho Yi, Sean Ghazi, Aura Deva, Taewon Yi Kim, Alexander Deng/Joseph Tadiar, Jeana Leah Cachero, Charlotte Nguyen, RobinKermode
Royal Wives, Slaves, Courtiers et cetera: Irene Alano,Khan Bonfils, Karen Cadogan, Jo Jo de la Cerna, Steven Eng, Su-Man Hsu, Yukiko Kashiki, Na-Ye Kim, David Lee, Mei-Chun Lin, Benjamin Loh, Ming Lui, Kaori Murakami, Azumi Ono, Oliver Pang, Melanie May Po, Therese Rademark, Stephanie Reese, Gina Respall, Ayako Shimzu, Samart Sathaveesuk, Gina Tse, Unku
The Royal Children: Nicholas Chun Ming, Geneva Ferrer, Lirazell Swindells, Aidan Ng, Wai Chun Cheung, Nina Chung, Minh anh Nguyen, Vy Nguyen, Charlotte Nguyen, Max Takashima, Vinh Trung Ton, Vanessa Karen White, James Yang, Odelia Yu or Ayla Amiral, Chase Bersabal, Stephanie Burns, Stuart Burns, Jeana Leah Cachero, Joshua Delim, Alexander Deng, Nikisha Misatry, Jessica Olivar, George Ramos, Yoh Takasawa
Musical Supervision and Direction: John Owen Edwards
Choreography by Jerome Robbins
Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett
Musical staging: Lar Lubovitch
Set Design: Brian Thomson
Costume Design: Roger Kirk
Lighting Design: Nigel Levings
Sound Design: Paul Groothuis
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7494 5029
Booking to 12th January 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd May 2000 performance at the London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1
The King and I website is at www.thekingandi.co.uk.