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The King and I

Highly Recommended

Dazzling attention to details and opulent costumes fuel heartwarming production of 'The King and I'

Nick Bowling, making his directorial debut together with choreographer Tommy Rapley, have mounted a fine production of the Tony winning 1951 musical – The King and I. Featuring the magnificent Heidi Kettenring as Anna Leonowens and Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as The King, Bowling’s worthy production looks splendid with a colorful array of Oriental costumes including those 1860s European hooped dress (costume design by Nancy Missimi). Add the hint of the Far East in Thomas M. Ryan’s set with mood enhancing lighting by Jesse Klug, and you have a period-perfect looking production.

Considered to be Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved musical, The King and I is set in Siam in the 1860s. It tells the story of Anna, a widowed Englishwomen, who becomes a tutor to the King’s children as part of the ‘westernization’ of Siam by the King. The King, played with a tortured nature by Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte is torn between clinging to his ancient customs and embracing modern ways. Essentially, The King and I is a story of colliding cultures where respect, understanding, and acceptance battle with the stubbornness of two people – one a king and one a charismatic female. The musical is also a love story subtly between the King and Anna and directly between Lun Tha (Devin Ilaw) and Tuptim (Megan Masako Haley). The theme of tolerance and social change is deftly presented.

This musical contains one of the most beloved and respected scores ever written by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Such fun songs like “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting To Know You” are implanted into minds of generations along with the beautifully enchanting ballads such as “Hello, Young Lovers” and “We Kiss In a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” The cast mostly of Asian-Americans featured strong vocals especially from Devon Ilaw, Megan Masako Haley, and Kristen Choi (Lady Thiang).

The King’s wives and children evoked charm as they marched, sang, and danced. Tommy Rapley’s Oriental-like movements with the ballet scene “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” using masks and vivid costumes, highlighted act two with its rapid fluidity.

Anna and the King subtly struggled with their cultural difference as both suppressed the romantic sparks that lingered. The King’s “A Puzzlement” and Anna’s “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” both contain a subtext of romantic feelings. These feeling almost explode as they dance a polka in the thrilling “Shall We Dance.” Heidi Kettenring offers a steady, likable Anna whose feminism stands up effectively to the King. Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte presents the King as regal, strong yet vulnerable. Sparks fly between him and Anna.

This intimate, colorful, wonderfully sung production is most stage worthy. The children were disciplined, well rehearsed, and cute. The choreography was exquisite. You’ll be entertained and you’ll leave humming the fabulous R&H tunes long after witnessing this terrific production. “Getting to Know You” is still stuck in my head – it makes me smile. The King and I is a fine show to introduce young folks to the magic of musical theatre.