**** Highly Recommended **** Although The King and I has always been one of my favorite musicals, I’d forgotten just how wonderful this musical is! Drury Lane’s stunning new production of The King and I is a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears. The cast is outstanding, the children are darling, the voices are amazing, and if you watch carefully, you might even see an elephant! it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Siam – I was really happy to return! 4 BIG Spotlights
Betsy Morgan is an excellent choice for Anna Leonowens, a woman with a steel backbone under her hoop-skirt. Although Morgan is a native Chicagoan, I wasn’t familiar with her work, since she was mostly in New York, but this part could have been written with her voice in mind. She can gracefully manage that huge hoop-skirt, too, practically gliding across the stage.
Incidentally, we must remember to give Anna her just dues. In an era when a British woman was supposed to be an ornament on a man’s arm, she insisted on earning her own way and raising her son, Louis (Braden Crothers) on her own. Then, working in a country where the king’s word was law, she held her own – quite handily!
Adam Jacobs was another excellent choice for the gruff, autocratic and volatile King of Siam. He really made the part his own, as he stomps around demanding obeisance and obedience from his family/subjects. He lets Anna cool her heels for a couple of weeks before allowing her to be presented. That same day he received a gift from his not-quite-enemy, the King of Burma, a young woman named Tuptim (Paulina Yeung).
He introduced Lady Thiang (Christine Bunuan), his first wife and mother of the Crown Prince Chulalongkorn (Matthew Uzarraga}, then called for his children. The royal children enter individually, kowtow to the King, bow to Anna, and run to their mothers. The children (Avelyn Choi, Dante Garcia, Enzo Garcia, Elle Larocco, Vin Laroccco, Rika Nishikawa and Alexandrya Salazar) were perfectly rehearsed, perfectly behaved – and did those kowtows to the King in perfect sync. He absolutely grins with pride, even as he moves one of his children into the correct position.
I really enjoyed his rendition of A Puzzlement, in which he privately expresses his uncertainties and frustrations. I actually felt a real respect growing between the King and Anna as the story unfolded, although Anna’s patience was often sorely tried. In the privacy of her room, she’s thinking of all the things she should have said to the King in a song called Shall I Tell You What I Think of You. She begins her song/rant with "Your servant! Your servant! Indeed, I'm not your servant!" and builds to a furious crescendo ending with "Toads! Toads! Toads! All of your people are toads."
Meanwhile, Tuptim has fallen in love with Lun Tha (Ethan Le Phong), the man who escorted her from Burma. They think they’re meeting in secret, but Anna is aware that something isn’t quite right, Lady Thiang has actually seen them, and even the King has noticed Tuptim’s reluctance.
As Crown Pirnce Chulalongkorn and Louis Leonowens gradually build a friendship, they start to notice that things are really confusing and reprise A Puzzlement.
Anna and the King work together to get everything ready for a visit from the British – who seem to think he’s some kind of savage. To show that he’s both educated and cultured, they invite Sir Edward Ramsey (Victor Holstein) to dinner.
The evening’s entertainment is Tuptim’s play, The Small House of Uncle Thomas, an charming story ballet choreographed by Darren Leet with an entire dance cast!
And then there’s the dance …
Kudos to Director Alan Pault, Music Director Tim Laciano and the entire cast and crew.
Note: Masks are optional at Drury Lane Theatre. .
The King and I runs through May 22nd at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Parking is free. Running time is approximately 2 hours, 45 minutes, with an intermission.
Performances are Wednesdays at 1:30 pm; Thursdays at 1:30 & 8:00 pm; Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 & 6:00 pm. Tickets range from $64-$79. FYI (630) 530-0111 or www.drurylanetheatre.com.