Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see. From its colorful set to its superb cast including Jose Llana who has mastered the role of the Siamese King, this particular creation if The King and I is simply wondrous.


The scrumptiously definitive Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spirited, brainy educator, Anna Leonowens, who the King of Siam brings in from England to teach his seventy-seven children and many wives both the English language along with Western culture. She is strong-willed, which throws off the stubborn and egotistical king, the two struggling, at times, to see eye to eye, especially when Anna states that women are every bit as important than men.


Laura Michelle Kelly has a large Broadway resume and shines as the show’s star in Anna offering genuineness to the role while providing a strong singing voice for the part. Kelly suffuses the character with wit, strength, empathy and a suffragette fervor which climaxes in the comical and still contemporary number, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”


“All to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!”


Jose Llana is about as good as it gets as the King of Siam (sorry, Yul Brynner). Llana is no stranger to the role having starred in two Tony-Award winning in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of The King and I. As I suggested previously, he is made for the role. Delightful, attractive and able to charm the house one moment while displaying great frustration the next, Llana delivers a layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable distortion. Llana’s comic timing, humorous expressions and line delivery are spot on. He is convincing so that it makes perfect sense that his character is both gaining respect for the sophisticated and mature teacher while also being confused by his rising sense of incomprehension at her grasp of political awareness that progresses the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.


The chemistry between Llana and Kelly is explosive.


There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Llana and Kelly manage to make it a funny exchange between two people who are each unaware they are gaining a true admiration for each other.


Other stories unfold throughout the production, that of a young couple whose love is forbidden as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), who is in love with Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), her secret lover. At the same time, we see a young king in the making who is clearly influenced by Anna’s Western ways.


Marcus Shane steps in as Prince Chulalongkorn, the young boy who is next in line to be king, and does a solid job conveying his character’s gradually absorption of Anna’s wisdom and life lessons most notably at the show’s end when he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden. The young prince has clearly learned a lesson in humanity from his now adored teacher and friend, Anna.


Joan Almedilla is fantastic as Lady Thiang. Her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” is nothing less than breathtaking. Like the other cast members in main roles, Almedilla’s voice is yet another a true treat for the ears. It’s easy to get spoiled when seeing a well-performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the words for every song are so unforgettable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” is also gorgeously sung by Nichols, as the love stricken Tuptim.

“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
And Panmeechao, Tuptim’s lover, performs the classic “I Have Dreamed” impeccably.
“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper
When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

The costumes in this piece are true to the period while the dance numbers pleasingly choreographed and a radiant set worthy of its royalty is the finishing touch.
I highly recommend this dreamy, moving and humorous evening of unadulterated theatrical joy.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is being performed at the Oriental Theatre through July 2nd For more show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

In 2013, The Lyric Opera of Chicago made a commitment to produce five Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and on Saturday night, they opened The King and I – the fourth show of the five – directed by Lee Blakeley in his Lyric Opera directorial debut. 

 

The King and I tells the tale of Anna, a young widow who travels to Siam with her son to serve as English teacher to the King’s multitude of children. In a country where patriarchy and old traditions prevail, Anna - referred to as “sir” by the King’s wives – is a strong, independent and well educated woman whose strength challenges a king who has never been challenged before. As the strict but loving teacher gets to know her pupils, her relationship with the King grows and despite their differences, she soon finds herself working with him to help convince the western world he is not a barbarian.

 

Kate Baldwin makes her Lyric Opera debut as Anna and was truly the star of the show, although the youngest of the Kings children certainly gave her a run for her money with a few beyond cute moments! Baldwin swept across the stage in her magnificent hoop skirts and brought strength and beauty to her songs. Unfortunately, Paolo Montalban – also in his Lyric debut – could not quite match Baldwin’s presence on the stage as the King of Siam. His singing was light and needed more power, as did his portrayal of the King which did not quite resonate the the intense and intimidating authority expected of this role.

 

It was an immense production overall with a massive cast once all of the wives, children, dancers, ensemble and main characters are accounted for. The sets and costumes are direct from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Everyone was dressed in colorful and glittering costumes, designed by Sue Blane, that filled the stage with magnificence. The sets, by Jean-Marc Puissant, were rich and intricate bringing the audience from the opulent palace to the classroom and the ship that brought Anna to her new home. 

 

For dance lovers, the ballet production of “The Small House of Uncle Tom”, choreographed by Peggy Hickey, was excellent with a beautiful blend of traditional ballet and an influence of traditional eastern dance styles. The production within the production incorporated puppets and creative use of props. Lisa Gillespie brings life to the role of Eliza in the ballet which is beautifully narrated by Ali Ewoldt as Tuptim. 

 

Overall, the Lyric Opera created another magnificent production with The King and I. While not perfect, the sheer magnitude of this show and some excellent performances are sure to please audiences. The show lacks some emotional depth but it still has moments that elicit laughter, bring a gently smile to the surface and even call up some light but somber memories of lost loves. The show runs at the Lyric Opera through May 22nd with weeknight, weekend and matinee performances. Get your tickets and enjoy your trip to Siam.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Every time I think the talented cast of players and directors performing at Marriott Theatre’s intimate theatre in the round have done the very best they can, they top themselves again.

This production of the deliciously classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spunky, intelligent teacher who is recruited from England to teach the children of an arrogant but struggling King of Siam directed with precision and compassion by Nick Bowles was hands down the finest, most soaring yet intimate production of “The King and I” that I have seen in years.

Heidi Kettenring as the show’s star in Anna has more than a fine singing voice for the piece. Kettenring infuses the character with humor, strength, compassion and a feminist fury which reaches its peak of expression in the hilarious and still modern song, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”

“All 
to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!...”

king-and-iNew York actor Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, does a wonderful, sexy and layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable caricature.  Guillarte is a little bit younger than the King is normally played and it makes perfect sense that his character is both falling in love with the educated and mature teacher Anna and also confused by his growing sense of bewilderment at her grasp of political situations that improve the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.

The romantic and sexual chemistry between Kettenring and Guillarte is absolutely dynamite and had the entire audience breathlessly watching each explosive scene between this talented pair.

There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Kettenring and Guillarte manage to make it a funny and sexy “shades of gray” type dance between two people who are each unaware they are falling in love with the other.

I am happy to see that almost all of the roles for the children and wives and concubines of Siam were filled by actors with a variety of different ethnicities. The children in this production are completely delightful to watch from beginning to end. Matthew Uzarraga, who plays the boy who would be King, does a fantastic job bringing his little tyrannical boy to life and when at the end of the show he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden, you really believe this child has learned something major from his now beloved teacher and friend Anna.

Kristen Choi as Lady Thiang knocks it out of the park with her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” and Joseph Anthony Foranda is a wise, organic presence. Shirtless like the King, he pulls off the role with quiet sensuality and power as the aging prime minister to the King Kralahome.


Nancy Missimi went all out with the costumes in this piece and I most enjoyed her costumes on the wives, children and concubines of the King. Their dance numbers were wonderfully choreographed by Tommy Rapley and together with Ms. Missimi’s costumes and Tom Ryan's royally glowing set design, the dance numbers reminded me of barefoot dancing flowers, like multicolored orchids and floating water lilies come to life onstage.

I get totally spoiled when seeing a well performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the lyrics for every song are so unique and memorable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” was beautifully sung by Megan Masako Haley as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim, who is in love with another.


“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

And Devin Law as Lun Tha , Tuptim’s secret lover, also performed the classic “I Have Dreamed” to perfection.

“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper

When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view

In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

I can’t speak highly enough about how all of the elements in this production came together to create such an educational, yet romantic,  touching and funny evening of pure  theatrical delight, including the  fantastic, organic choreography by Tommy Rapley and Ryan T. Nelson’s exquisitely detailed musical direction.

Take your children and your grandparents, or even your first date to ‘The King and I” at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire with confidence that you will all equally enjoy a magical night of classic entertainment performed at peak quality for modern times.

For more show information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

The romantic and richly textured tale of East versus West, THE KING AND I,comes toThe Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL., previewing October 22, opening October 29, and running through January 4, 2015. Nick Bowling (Juno and The Normal Heart at Timeline Theatre) makes his Marriott Theatre directorial debut with a fresh take on this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, merging history and romance with today’s social and political issues. THE KING AND Itakes audiences on an uplifting journey of the power of education as characters transform from instructor to students themselves, learning from one another in the process. In consultation with the Thai Cultural and Fine Arts Institute of Chicago, Bowling and Choreographer Tommy Rapley will explore ancient Siamese customs, dance and traditions, and bring them to life on stage.

Set against a dazzling and exotic backdrop of 19th century Siam, THE KING AND I follows the tumultuous relationship of the strong-willed British Governess Anna (Jeff Award-nominee Heidi Kettenring) and the larger than life King of Siam (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte), as they try to find common ground between Siamese and British traditions. In an attempt to modernize his country, the King seeks Anna’s assistance in teaching his children and wives about Western culture. Conflicts arise, however, as both refuse to give up their respective traditions and values.  As the story unfolds, Anna and the King grow to understand and respect one another, and ultimately, fall in love in a truly unique romance. THE KING AND I takes audiences through a captivating journey of music, dance and enchantment with timeless Rodgers and Hammerstein classics “Getting to Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” and “Shall We Dance?”

THE KING AND Istars Heidi Kettenring as "Anna" (National Tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Broadway in Chicago's Wicked, the World Premiere of Hero at the Marriott Theatre), Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as “The King of Siam” (2G's World Premiere of Galois The MusicalMacbeth at Lincoln Center/Clarke Studio Theater; NAATCO'S Obie Award-winning production of Awake And Sing; New York and U.S. premiere of Immaculate at La Mama, World Premiere of Bunty Berman Presents at The New Group), Megan Masako Haley as “Tuptim,” Devin Ilaw as “Lun Tha,” Kristen Choi as “Lady Thiang,” Joseph Anthony Foranda as “Kralahome,”Michael Semanic as “Louis Leonowens,” Matthew Uzarraga as “Prince Chulalongkorn”, and Rod Thomas as “Sir Edward and Captain Orton.” Also starring in the production are Alexis Aponte, Audrey Billings, W. Blaine Brown, Nicholas Dantes, Jasmine Ejan, Lilly S. Fujioka, Monique Haley, Raymond Interior, Jillian Jocson, Scott Alan Jones, Dylan M. Lainez, Rika Nishikawa, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Hanna Savella, Scott Shimizu, Yu Suzuki, Rose Le Tran, Zachary Uzarraga, Janelle Villas, and Sophia Woo.

THE KING AND Iproduction team is led by the Marriott Theatre’s Lead Artistic Director Andy Hite. Set Design is by Tom Ryan, Costume Design by Nancy Missimi, Lighting Design by Jesse Klug, Sound Design by Bob Gilmartin and Properties Design by Sally Weiss; with Dialect Coach Jill Walmsley Zager.

The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $40 to $48, excluding tax and handling fees. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, there are a limited number of Dinner and Theatre tickets available and can only be purchased through the Marriott Theatre Box Office. On Friday and Saturday evenings, dinner reservations can be made at the King’s Wharf restaurant. Additionally on Sundays, dinners in the Fairfield Inn are available. To make a reservation at either of these two restaurants, please call 847-634-0100.Free parking is available at all performances. To reserve tickets, please call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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