The King and I
When Marriott Theatre announced its plans to do the classical “The King and I”, a play that has been a crowd pleaser for generations, many of their subscribers were as delighted as ever. Marriott thrives on their subscribers seeing shows they are familiar with. While they do bring in some newer shoes, it is the old standbys that keep their subscribers coming back. This production of “The King and I is probable the best ever and newcomer (new to the Marriott, but a familiar name in Chicago) Nick Bowling’s direction and use of the small arena stage in wonderful, keeping the movement in Siam as real as if we ourselves had made the trip. It is hard to believe that anyone is unfamiliar with this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on the novel, ”Anna and the King of Siam” (written by Margaret Landon) that tells the story of an English widow who has been hired by the ruthless King of Siam to teach his children and his wives to be more civilized.
This is 19th century Siam and from what I have heard the people of Siam did have a king that may have truly been immortalized in this epic tale. The story deals with slavery as the King (well played by Andrew Ramcharen Guilarte , who brings a bit more warmth to this role than others have) treats his people as they are, and it deals with friendship, love and loyalty. There also are inklings of class and racial undertones.. As the strong-willed Governess/teacher, Anna, Marriott has cast the perfect actress, Heidi Kettenring, whose acting ability and vocal range bring more strength to the roles, again, than previous productions. We have had countless productions in the city and suburbs over the years, but this one has to be the topper! In fact, I would call this production “must see”!
Bowling has assemble a cast that fills the theater with great voices and are sheer perfection, from the youngest of the children to the King’s right hand man, the Kralahome (Chicago favorite Joseph Anthony Foranda, who has played the king himself in years past) to the ship’s captain (Rod Thomas who also plays Sir Edward Ramsey, an old English friend of Anna). The kids are adorable as Bowling also uses them in other areas. In many cases, the kids are important parts of the show but are only used in certain scenes. Bowling and Choreographer Tommy Rapley have used them in the play within the play “Small House of Uncle Thomas” instead of having them backstage waiting for the few scenes where they are involved. This gives them a better understanding of the play and theme and for this I congratulate the Marriott staff.
The “Young Lovers”, Devin Haw as Lun Tha and the incredible Megan Masako Haley as Tuptim ,who does an amazing job with both the “Small House” number and “My Lord and Master”, and “I Have Dreamed” are special treats for the ear. Speaking f special, The King’s “number one wife, Lady Thiang (Kristen Choi) will astound you with her rendition of “”Something Wonderful”! In fact, the music ( under the direction of Ryan T. Nelson) is memorable songs such as “Getting To Know You”, “Whistle a Happy Tune” and a sensational “Shall We Dance” where Kettenring and Guilarte polka around the perimeter of the round stage’s apron area ( pretty scary, but well done causing the audience to applaud before the dance had even got into its rhythm.)
This is an evening of solid entertainment and despite being 2 and a half hours, it never feels long and we almost don’t want it to end. I also want to mention the children; Louis, Anna’s son ( Michael Semanic) and Prince Chulalonghorn (the adorable Matthew Uzarraga) who own their scenes and along with the other children of the king;Alexis Aponte, LillyS. Fujioka,Dylan M Lainez, RikaNishikawa, Hannah Savella, Zachary Uzarranga and Sophia Woo.
This masterful production, with a great set (Thomas M. Ryan) makes the perimeter of the stage appear very regal; costumes (Nancy Missimi and her staff have outdone themselves with this one), lighting by Jesse Klug and props by Sally Weiss is one that is perfect for the entire family. Kids and adults will enjoy themselves and at the same time get a little knowledge about the world gone by (without the use of a computer). Marriott subscribers can rejoice. They have a show from their youth, but with new life and vigor.