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The King and I

theatre

The multi award-winning Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I returns to the UK, following its critically-acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium.

Helen George, best known as Trixie in the hit BBC One series Call The Midwife, will star as Anna. The King and I is the greatest musical from the golden age of musicals – with one of the finest scores ever written including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.

This gloriously lavish production is brought to the stage by an internationally renowned creative team under Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher (South Pacific / My Fair Lady / To Kill a Mockingbird) and will feature a world-class company of over 50 West End and Broadway performers and a full-scale orchestra.

“We left the London Palladium on a bright cloud of music – joyous!” Daily Mail

“I doubt I will ever see a better production in my lifetime” Wall Street Journal

“Five stars for a sumptuous King and I. Book now. It’s a hit” The Times

Our review on The King and I

The King and I - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 9th January 2024 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating
THE KING AND I IS PURE GOLDEN MUSICAL THEATRE - MOVING, BREATHTAKING AND MEMORABLE!

The King and I was last in Manchester less than a year ago, but as it makes it return to Salford, I know that it is never too soon to indulge in this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.  They are musical legends, and the swelling evidence of rich, emotive, layered melodies and lyrics are present in every song they write.  I have found myself whistling a happy tune since New Years Day in anticipation of the greatest musical from the golden age of musicals making its way back to us, and despite my ridiculously high expectations, this production by Tony award winning director Barlett Sher, did not disappoint and delivered everything I wanted and more. 

Featuring one of the finest scores ever written (and with an overture!), their melodies have found a home in many a heart.  The King and I continues to astound audiences with its brilliance, its historically difficult storylines, and its outstanding music.  Slavery, misogyny, polygamy, sexism, racism, human trafficking, and multiple children make this book a constant debate between it being a timeless classic or a dated relic.  This Bartlett Sher production does not try to rewrite history by shying away from these elements but focuses more on accuracy than on a glamourous infused idyllic view of the Far East during this time.  It means sets and costumes are more period appropriate to 1860’s Siam, and simpler rather than portraying a dreamlike Hollywood vision of what Siam may have been like.  It means that whilst Anna clearly has confused feeling for The King, she does not simply “love” him in the smitten romantic way she is accustomed to but is engulfed by a whirlwind of paradoxical emotions that have her admiring and respecting The King whilst simultaneously despising many of his values.  She is intrigued, infuriated and curious.  Anna can see the hope of change in him and admires that he is trying to learn and make changes through the acceptance of another way. 




The King of Siam invites recently widowed British school teacher Anna Leonowens to Siam to educate his children and wives in the ways of the Western World.  With such huge cultural differences and heated opinions, it is apparent it is just as difficult for Anna to agree as for The King to have asked in the first place.  But The King fears for the future of his country and the perception the rest of the world has of him and his Kingdom.  Cultures and beliefs clash between Anna and The King, with both believing themselves to be the ones who are correct and proper.  Anna finds herself in the predicament of opposing The Kings misogynistic and humanistic views, whilst equally being a guest in his country and trying to respect his traditions.  When The King receives a gift in the form of a woman slave named Tuptim and sees nothing wrong with this, Anna can hold her tongue no more.  Nor can she stand by and witness Tuptim’s chance of true love pass by and so endeavours to help her.  The King is furious and as they clash, it is ultimately Tuptim who pays the price.  It raises questions of tradition and honour versus humanity and equity, a very relevant question in today’s world.  The King discovers that Britain have declared him a barbarian due to these traditions, and it is Anna herself who defends him, stating he is trying to marry his traditions with Western beliefs and there is far more going on than what their report sees.  Anna suggests inviting The British to witness for themselves that Siam is a country full of culture, passion, beauty and love.  She of course has to allow The King to believe it is his own idea to host the event, and even though she was employed to educate the children and wives, Anna possibly finds her biggest student in The King himself.  Theirs is a tumultuous relationship for they disagree on almost everything, apart from the desire to serve and protect their people.  They observe and respect this objective in each other, even if they do not understand the opposing deliveries.  After a period of not talking to one another, Anna finally agrees to visit The King one last time, where he offers permission of hope for the future of his beloved country.  Their deeply conflicted, complicated and combusting friendship is felt deeply in these final moments, as a new era is born.




The King & I will evoke iconic moments for anyone who has seen it, and tease newcomers with mind blowing routines and all-encompassing music.  An audience favourite is, and will forever be “Shall We Dance,” and tonight was no exception.  There is a magnetic joy in this centre piece of the show for is offers release, it offers a moment of peace in the tension, and it offers hope.  You see all of this and more not only through the dance itself, but through the performers playing The King and Anna (Darren Lee and Helen George) as they polka around the stage with unabashed delight.  The energy is contagious, and the audience feel their abandonment.  Uncle Toms cabin also steals the show, where choreographer Christopher Gattelli has impeccably captured the embodiment of its intention with East meets West.  A traditional Siamese ballet is at the heart of this piece, and traditions are honoured with respect.  The entire showcase is stunningly beautiful and delicately demonstrates the beauty and talent overlooked by politics.  There is so much to love about this production, whether it be a particular song that holds dear memories, the delightful humour, the important messages, the outstanding performers, the spectacular dancing or the seamless flow the production has, you won’t be disappointed.  Many of tonights audience concurred that even though they had seen the show less than a year ago, its brilliance captivated them afresh.  That is true testament to a royal performance.




A moment that drew me in and held me captive once again was the soliloquy “puzzlement” by The King, performed by the flawlessly outstanding Darren Lee (Chicago, Allegiance, Miss Saigon).  I have previously seen Lee perform as The King and was bowled over by the humanistic edge of vulnerability he brought to the role, making this a very real character, with flaws, with questions, with inner tensions between what tradition dictates and what he feels may be right.  It was outstanding then, and yet tonight, he somehow made his performance even better.  Untouchable.  He is commanding, powerful, intimidating, yet cheeky, charming, and humorous, and it is intoxicating.  We see him instruct the most despicable of acts, cringe as he unflinchingly accepts a human being as a gift, yet we smile as he teases Anna with his rule of always being the highest in the room, and share in his joy as he dances around the palace with a childlike innocence.  It is such a clever performance because his views are unthinkable to many, yet you can’t help but like him, and that is the quandary and dilemma of the entire situation.  The story is always bigger than the surface cover.  A man who is ruled by pride yet knows he has more to learn creates such an interesting dynamic and it is these complexities that Darren Lee brings to the role in a way I have ever seen before.  He is so sure of himself, yet so full of questions at the same time.  This paradox explodes in “Puzzlement,” and shows us a human being struggling with his own mind.  It is outstanding.


Helen George
(Call The Midwife, Nativity Rocks, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is strong, stunning and formidable as Anna and proves she is a defiant match for The King.  There is a heady mix of a tender loving care coupled with ferocious mamma bear vibes and it is achieved with such ease that George presents Anna as someone who has a genuine desire to bring simplicity to complicated matters.  She loves with all her heart and she brings Anna to life in such a way that you innately trust, respect and warm to her.  It is rare to feel such real trust in a character, but that is the beauty of George’s talent.  That is not to say George plays Anna as someone who is perfect and has nothing to learn herself.  Far from it, and she allows a vulnerable humility to surface, highlighting a lack of understanding of things beyond her own world.  These moments offered by George are of vital importance, as they have the potential to indicate and affect an audience reaction too.  George is not afraid to have Anna put in her place and it allows us to feel the growing discomfort too.  The chemistry, friction and tumbled emotions between George and Lee is palpable and during their moments of peace with each other, they can bring you to tears. 




Much of this cast are the same as the previous performance I saw, and whilst it would be easy to say I reiterate everything I said last time, that is not quite true, for they all seem to be evolving with the show and getting better and better.  Lady Thiang is portrayed by Cezarah Bonner and as before, her rendition of “Something Wonderful” moved me to tears.  The depth of feeling and understanding she brings to this song is mesmerising and beautifully explores the complications of love.  She plays the role with a dignified strength, making both her love and fear of the King present in equal measures.  Bonner exudes a radiance and a power entirely of her own.  Dean John-Wilson and Marienella Phillips continue as the forbidden lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim.  John Wilson’s vocals in “We Kiss In A Shadow” are so tender and delicate that they permeate his love for Tuptim.  The gentleness with which he sings is stunning and harshly contrasts to how The King is with Tuptim.  Phillips vocals soar and leave you with goosebumps.  Her defiance of The King in Uncle Toms Cabin is so striking and believable, you find yourself holding your breath during her performance.  Together they have such a wonderful connection on stage. 


The last time I saw this production I was utterly blown away by the performance of Caleb Lagayan as Prince Chulalongkorn and I confess to immediately flicking through my programme to ascertain if he was in tonights show.  I am thrilled to have witnessed this outstanding actor once again and still believe he has captured this role like no one else.  A spectacular blend of innocence, arrogance, and an internal tension between the new and the old, he layers his character with so many nuances that you feel his confusion, his fear, his desire to be the best he can be.  Lagayan’s powerful reprise of “Puzzlement” is like a work of art as you see every thought, every emotion cross his expressive face.  It would be easy for his character to dominate in this scene, but he beautifully shares the moment with Louis Levy as the strong willed, strong minded son of Anna, Louis.  Their scenes together are full of fierce loyalty to their parents, sprinkled with doubt as their own views surface and they see a different way into the future.




Sam Jenkins – Shaw, Kok-Hwa Lie and Chi Chan complete the main cast as Sir Edward Ramsey, Kralahome, and Phra Alack.  Respectively they bring superbly contrasting qualities of suave sophistication, intimidating strength and power, and humour in the detail.  And no review of The King And I is complete without mentioning the children.  They were flawless, professional mini adults, each with their own character clearly brought to life and didn’t miss a single beat.


Directed by the unquestionable genius of multiple Tony award winner Bartlett Sher, the indulgence of The King and I has been stripped back.  Yes, there is glamour and opulence, but it is simplistic in its approach and streamlined so the desired impact isn’t about the spectacle, but the story itself.  Its stripped back nature compared to previous shows, films and productions, represents a more sparse nature that reflects the truth of the people of Siam, rather than the perception of an exotic enchantment.  Elements of this impressively clever set (Michael Yeargan) are striking in stature, such as the boat or the Buddha, yet their design allows for swift entry and exists.  Scenes are able to change in a heartbeat, from a dockside to a palace, and the visual result is one of colour, simplistic detail, and ambience.  Flowers are lowered in from above to depict the palace gardens, silhouetted homes are raised on legs out of the water, and gilded columns and textured curtains place us right in the heart of the palace itself.  This beautiful approach of simplicity is also seen in the costumes (Catherine Zuber).  Make though mistake though, for creating a simple approach to costumes does not mean they are basic.  Far from it.  They are stunningly beautiful and so intelligent too, representing the contrasting cultures so well that they even allow for a moment of mockery as the Siamese do not understand the British prim and proper attire for ladies.  This scene allows our Western clothes to be worn in any number of ways and highlights that what seems traditionally obvious to us, seems ridiculous to someone else.  Zuber manages to make an important statement of forcing our beliefs on someone because we assume they are correct and obvious to all. 




The King and I is a classic and always raises important debates on cultural appropriation.  It has been given a fresh approach but equally dares to retain the uncomfortable topics at the heart of the story, and does so through the very best musical theatre has to offer.  Bartlett Sher has honed in on the characters development, giving us more understanding of their predicaments, in place of trying to push an agenda of what is wrong and what is right, or more importantly perhaps, who is wrong and who is right.  He has made the most difficult of storylines something to behold, to engage with, and has equally honoured and respected the role of musical theatre and the iconic original score.  The result is moving, breathtaking, staggeringly emotional, and memorable.  The King and I is pure golden musical theatre.


WE SCORE THE KING AND I...






Our review on The King and I

The King and I - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Tuesday 9th May 2023 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating
BY ROYAL COMMAND, GO AND WATCH THE KING AND I AT THE PALACE - IT'S MUSICAL THEATRE OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!

Whenever the words The King And I are uttered to me, I produce an involuntary sigh of genuine love, for this musical holds a special place in my heart.  I saw the production at The London Palladium in 2018, and watched as it transformed the opinion of a couple of friends whose preference is more modern musicals.  I had been dubious as to whether they would enjoy such a “golden oldie.”  But they did, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised because it has some of the most glorious music ever written, a love story that breaks barriers, and it holds a mirror up to some pretty big topics such as prejudice and misogyny, so that we may learn from history.  Add in a wry sense of humour, breath taking costumes and some of the most uplifting and iconic choreography there is, and it’s no wonder that this musical with a difficult political storyline, has stood the test of time, and continues to flourish under the multiple Tony Award winning eye of Bartlett Sher.   
 



As the story takes us way back to the 1860’s, British school teacher, Anna Leonowens is invited by The King of Siam to educate his numerous wives and children.  He fears for the future of his country and so wants to his people to understand Western ways.  However, when Anna’s cultures and beliefs clash drastically with those of his own and his country, things become rather more complicated.  Anna struggles with his misogynistic views and his use of slavery, and so vows to help Tuptim, a young woman who has been presented to The King as a gift.  As The King and Anna clash between cultural beliefs, traditions and interpretations of honour verses humanity, Anna finds her most difficult student in The King himself.  Yet they both hold an admiration, love and respect for each other, for beyond their differences, they can see a desire to serve, protect and to be the best version of themselves, even if they do not agree on how this should be achieved. 



Alongside this, the British have been reporting The King to be a barbarian.  Anna defends him, proclaiming there is far more to him than they see, and he truly believes he is ruling his country for the good of his people.   She agrees to assist in hosting The British, including Sir Edward Ramsey in Siam, highlighting that this is a country full of culture, passion, beauty and love.  But The King discovers Tuptim has been disobeying his orders and things take a turn for the worst.  As The King falls ill, Anna returns to his side just in time to see “something wonderful” as he offers permission of hope for the future of his beloved country.  Their deeply conflicted, complicated and combusting friendship is felt deeply in these final moments, as a new era is born.


Under the direction of the unquestionable genius of Bartlett Sher, the wow factor of this production has somehow been achieved through a simplistic opulence, which I’m aware contradicts itself, yet that’s exactly what has been achieved.  The flow of the production has been streamlined in such a way that scene and set changes don’t become long and clunky, and everything that is desired is achievable within moments.  Michael Yeargan has excelled in bringing this to fruition, with a set that is not only in keeping with the story as it unfolds, but dazzles with colour, stunning detail, and creates atmosphere via subtle but perfect touches such as hanging flowers from above or the lowering of a giant Buddha.  From the start, a ship melts away with effortless ease, to transport us to Siam, with silhouetted homes raised on legs out of the water, whilst the Palace itself is beautiful in its simplistic design of gilded columns and textured curtains. 



The King is accomplished with mesmerising brilliance by Darren Lee (Chicago, Allegience, Miss Saigon) who without a doubt was born to play this role.  Powerful, commanding, yet with that chink of vulnerability, he epitomises everything The King is meant to be.  He portrays a character, that on the surface to a modern Western world, is vile and unspeakable.  Yet he injects the character with an unquantifiable charm and cheeky humour, meaning that despite his sometimes unpalatable views, you can’t help but like him.  He portrays The King as a man who is still learning, who wants to learn, but is full of pride.  This gives him a playful child like quality that has so often only been hinted at before, and never fully explored.  It really works, and so he manages to confuse the bejesus out of your feelings, which is kind of the whole point.  His performance of “Puzzlement” was a masterclass.



Partnered up with Annalene Beechey (Les Mis, A Little Night Music, Into The Woods) as Anna, we see a love blossom that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Their chemistry on stage is undeniable and as they sway into the iconic “Shall We Dance,” I found myself inexplicably emotional.  Beechey brings Anna to life with a fizzing vivacity, and a fierce and stubborn nature to match any King.  She tempers this with an equally gentle and tender side when interacting with the children and Tuptim.  Her ability to make us feel Anna’s humility in her scenes with Lady Thiang is vital, and she does this so believably that there were a few audience members shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they realised their own presumptions and self-righteous beliefs. 


Cezarah Bonner (Miss Saigon, Peter Pan,) as Lady Thiang was sublime.  The song “Something Wonderful” has been known to bring me to tears in the past, so I am always hyper alert when this song comes on, trying to fight the rush of emotion that overtakes me whilst in the company of thousands of strangers.  I could not.  Bonner’s rendition stands out as possibly the best I’ve heard, but more than that, she made me understand the song on a new level that I never have before.  Following the frenzied audience response, at least I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling to control the tsunami of emotions she released.



Dean John-Wilson (Passion, Aladdin, From Here To Eternity) as Lun Tha and Marienella Phillips (To Henry With Love, Ashes, The Shoemaker) as Tuptim have such a tangible and tender connection on stage.  Their voices blended in such a way that it submerged you into their world completely.  Caleb Lagayan (Les Mis, Spring Awakening, Newsies) was the talk of everyone around me as Prince Chulalongkorn.  He played this man child with such a ferocious blend of arrogance meets innocence that he made the character utterly convincing, and his voice was impeccable.  His rendition of “Puzzlement” was also an impressive moment, and he played well against the talented, articulate, and charming Max Ivemey as Louis.  And of course, we cannot talk about the cast of The King & I without referencing the magnificent children!  Each portrayed unique clear-cut characteristics, each was profoundly talented, and each produced a wave of instinctual response from the audience, resulting in audible “ooh’s” and “awws.”  Make no mistake though, these future stars were not chosen merely on their cute factor and are all fierce performers in their own right. 



There are many iconic moments in The King & I, and many involve dance.  From the gloriously unbridled polka of “Shall We Dance” to the Uncle Tom’s Cabin traditional Siamese ballet, East meets West in a diverse, stunning showcase.  Christopher Gattelli has choreographed a musical tapestry, ensuring traditions are honoured through grace, soul, and beauty.  Rousing numbers nestle alongside delicate storytelling and every beat, every step counts.  Stunning.  Adding to the beauty of the dance is the costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber.  To say they are spectacular seems like a ridiculous understatement.  They are breath taking and are designed to represent the contrasting cultures so well that they even allow for a moment of mockery as the Siamese do not understand the British prim and proper attire for ladies. 



Rodgers & Hammerstein are musical legends, and the rich, emotive, layered, and swelling evidence is in every song they write.  They write music that connects to your brain, your heart, your mind, so that you are left humming it long after the show has finished.  But more than that, their songs hold you in the moment too, and manipulate you into feeling whatever it is they intended you to feel.  I have such fond memories of being in this show myself as a youngster, and listening to what was my song of “Getting To Know You,” made my heart sing.  Ask fans of the show what their favourite song is and you’ll get several different answers, and even though you think you have your own favourite, you’ll equally find yourself agreeing with every answer provided because they are all just pieces of art.  So whether you’re team “Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” or that brilliant soliloquy “Puzzlement,” you really can’t go wrong.



As time has gone on and we all evolve, become more educated, and become more understanding of each other, The King & I has sometimes fallen prey to critique regarding it’s outdated and troubling political, cultural, misogynistic prejudices, with suggestions that these should be addressed and corrected within the story.  But to do this would be to rewrite history and surely history is what serves to teach us about where we have gone wrong.  You cannot forge change if you do not know where the mistakes lie.  It is not the job of this musical to make the change for us.  That is our role as members of our society.  The King & I simply highlights that change should always be welcomed, points us in the right direction, and shows us that it is possible if we allow it.  And it does it with a truly timeless and beautiful score, outstanding performers, and a healthy dollop of humour.  By Royal Command, go and watch The King & I.  



WE SCORE THE KING AND I...

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