Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is an adaptation of Margaret Langdon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam, and is a unique musical where there is no love/romance between the two leading characters, ending with the death of a hero.
It tells the story of Anna Leonowens, an English widow, employed by the King of Siam to tutor his children and many wives. With her son Louis in tow, Anna arrives at the Royal Palace in Bangkok to discover the King has not kept his promise of providing her with a separate house away from the Palace. She is witness to the arrival of the King’s latest ‘gift’ of a new wife named Tuptim and is overwhelmed by the number of children she is to tutor. Anna and the King clash on various issues but find some common ground when she resolves one of the King’s political dilemmas. Gradually, they develop an understanding and respect beyond cultural and social boundaries. Their attachment to each other is of mutual respect rather than love. The sub-plot provides the romantic element of the musical, with Tuptim falling in love with Lun Tha, a Burmese emissary.
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has enlivened The King and I and under the direction of Brian Burron, presents a production that although lacking in true Asian-American casting, is still entertaining and worth the drive up to Johnstown.
The talented, Heather Lacy shows flair in her portrayal of the unflappable Anna Leonowens and shines in her scenes with the children. Lacy’s lovely voice possesses tonal warmth as she reminisces in Hello, Young Lovers, she conveys good English humor in Getting To Know You and swirls gracefully to the joyous Shall We Dance?. Her highlight song Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You? shows her ranting and raging in stark contrast to her usual calmness. Lacy gives a quiet presence on stage that never outshines her fellow cast members but always keeps you watching.
Tracy Kaufman, plays the King’s ‘gift’ and new wife Tuptim with such sweetness and sorrow, it’s difficult not to feel moved by her predicament. She sings beautifully throughout showcasing a side of her voice we weren’t able to see in Bye, Bye Birdie.
The chorus of wives and children offer a nice support to the leads and their presence was a constant reminder of the King’s influence and absolute power in a country ready to connect with the West. Although, Dominque N. Simmons, Jacklyn Grigg, Katie Rhoades and Audra Agajanian stand out among the numbers with vibrant facials and perfectly placed adlibs throughout.
Praise goes to the costume designers, Judy Ernst and Turid Rathbun, especially for the pieces created specifically for Lacy. Lacy looks beautiful as she practically floats across the stage.
With The King and I closing the season, it will be interesting to see what Brian Burron has in store for Big River opening this June. And even further down, how will such productions as Annie Warbucks fair in the overall 2011-2012 season line-up?
The King and I is an enduring and entertaining musical with an underlying message of globalization and women’s’ issues. Rodgers and Hammerstein have created a story with a dignified and lavish picture of the East, without the clichés connected with identifying the Orient as seen in most musicals. This musical has stood the test of time and will continue to move audiences for many years.