A sparkling, atmospheric set, stunning, colourful costumes, enchanting dancing, majestic music and supreme singing. If you’ve never seen the iconic King and I, ‘Getting to Know’ it now, while it’s on its UK tour following a sell-out session at the London Palladium, should be on your timetable.
Telling the story of a young English widow, Anna, who takes a job teaching the children of the King of Siam – a man with multiple wives and even more children – it’s a production that’s won four Tony Awards and rave reviews all over the US too. Set in 1862, the King is facing a time of change in his country and needs to connect himself to the west without losing the traditional values he lives by.
One of the most sumptuous, opulent and spectacularly visual of Rodgers and Hammersmith’s musicals, the stage is alive with rich, glittering colour, throughout. Understudy Maria Coyne took on the role of Anna Leonowens (normally played by Annalene Beechey) in last night’s production and she shone – especially in the scenes with the King where she veered between anger and frustration at him to understanding and acceptance (up to a point!). Her wry humouring of him when asked to keep her ‘promise’ to keep her head below his in the finale of Act 1 was especially well-acted and she was marvellous in Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?
Coyne’s voice was angelic – and more than reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews – as was her whole demeanour, in fact. Her rendition of Hello, Young Lovers brought a tear to my eye, followed by an uplifting and excellent Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance.
Jose Llana played a stormer as the King. With comical facial expressions and great presence, he was superb and brought the stage to life in all of his scenes. He could say etcetera etcetera for ever and still raise a laugh and his delivery of Puzzlement was first-class.
Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, the King’s favourite wife, was an excellent prescence throughout – her delivery of Something Wonderful was …well, wonderful. Aaron Teoh played a perfect pompous but ultimately vulnerable Prince Chulalongkorn and Jessica Gomes-Ng was a powerful Tuptim.
Other highlights of the show are too many to mention – but include a case of cuteness overload when the King’s children introduce themselves to Anna, a mesmerizing dance show in the Ballet of The Small House of Uncle Thomas and comedy in the classroom scenes when the children refuse to believe in snow, as well as when the King’s wives are forced to wear ridiculous western clothes – cue Western People Funny.
Catch The King and I at the Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff until 18 January. More information at wmc.org.uk
Pics copyright Johan Persson