Marriott's 'King and I' breathtakingly beautiful and brilliant
The last time I saw a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic "The King and I," it was in early January 2007 for a wonderful run at Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook, directed by William Osetek.
After being enchanted and enthralled by a brand new run of this beloved musical at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Ill., I realized it's been far too long since my last visit to a staged Kingdom of Siam.
The Broadway musical first opened in New York in 1951, with the late Yul Brynner (who died young at age 65 in 1985) delivering a defining performance that would last a lifetime.
He even reprised that same role as the stubborn King of Siam in the 1956 film version by 20th Century Foxopposite the beautiful Deborah Kerr, who died at age 86 in England in 2007, and in a short-lived CBS TV situation comedy titled after author Margaret Landon's novel of the same name "Anna and the King of Siam," starring Samantha Eggar as the proper English school teacher Anna Owens. Even before all of this, 20th Century Fox had already scored notice with an even earlier big-screen version called "Anna and the King" in 1946 with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne in the title roles.
So, it comes as no surprise that most people already know this real-life story.
Marriott audiences are easily transported to the mysterious Ancient Orient, surrounded by elegant and authentic sets and costumes, for this new run that continues through the holidays until Jan. 4.
The last time I'd seen this show as a national Broadway staging, it was a tour in 2004 with Sandy Duncan playing Anna at the Auditorium Theatre. Marie Osmond also took a turn in the same role, as did Jodie Foster in a nonmusical big-screen adaptation in 1999. As for Broadway bows, besides Brynner's many years in New York as the King, the last reincarnation was the favorable notice given to actor Lou Diamond Phillips in the role (and his Broadway debut) in 1996.
But what Marriott captures here is so much more with the collaboration between choreographer Tommy Rapley teamed with Nick Bowling, makes his Marriott Theatre directorial debut with this fresh spin showcased in the Marriott's "theater in the round" space.
Set in 19th Century Siam, "The King and I" is a story of a strained yet understanding relationship of the strong-willed British Governess Anna, played with grace, beauty and impeccable timing by Heidi Kettenring and the larger than life King of Siam as played here by sturdy Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte. All of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics musical numbers like "Getting to Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Shall We Dance?" are sung in fine form.
There are also some memorable moments in the performances of Kristen Choi as Lady Thiang, Joseph Anthony Foranda as the prime minister Kralahome (and the fine actor who played the role of the King for the 2006 Drury Lane turn) and charming Rod Thomas as Sir Edward and, completely unrecognizable, earlier on as a ship's captain.
Nancy Missimi, who is doing the musical's costume design...showcases a dazzling display against Tom Ryan's opulent set design.
This is a show I'll eagerly be sharing with my parents for a trek during the holidays, and you should too.