The King and I

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Credit: Johan Persson

The King and I is a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, based on Margaret Landon’s book Anna and the King. This production, directed by Bartlett Sher, is true to the original stage version and script which first premiered on Broadway in 1951. You have to accept this and take the show for what it is, and while at times there cliches and prejudices displayed, if you dig a bit deeper you will see a tale of love and loyalty, and a journey of self-discovery, where it is least expected.

The King and I tells the tale of a British widowed schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens (Annalene Beechley) who travels to Thailand from Singapore, for the role of teacher to the many children of the King of Siam (Darren Lee). Anna discovers that she isn’t seen as an equal to the King or in fact any man and must battle to have her voice heard.

Credit: Johan Persson

Anna is adored by the many wives and children of the King. She is committed to educating the children in the way she knows how, which isn’t always in line with the views and beliefs of the Thai King.

Anna however soon develops a strong bond and friendship with the King, where he values her thoughts and advice, even if he doesn’t acknowledge it out loud. With the impending visit of a British visitor, Anna makes it her mission to bring some western values and traditions to the palace, to expel the rumour in Britain of the King being a Barbarian.

While the plot doesn’t sit easily with me, the performances are exceptional. Beechley and Lee have an electric chemistry, they bring much laughter and joy to the production. They set such a high standard of performance and are enchantingly captivating throughout.

Credit: Johan Persson

Cezarah Bonner is impeccable as Lady Thiang, torn between her love of the King and her admiration for Anna. Marienella Phillips is sublime as TupTim, her vocals are glorious.

Special mention goes to the ensemble of children, so much talent and energy is shown throughout the production.

It is a large cast with an excellent senior ensemble also, the musicality and dancing are perfectly delivered, making the performances truly captivating.

Catherine Zuber has done an incredible job of the costumes, they are vibrant and splendid in every way, from the large European style dresses of Anna – to the most majestical tradition Thai outfits. The Thai theatre costumes are just spectacular and show great respect for the Thai culture and puppetry used in traditional Thai theatre. These were a huge highlight for me.

Credit: Johan Persson

Michael Yeargan’s set is well designed and along with the clever lighting design by Donald Holder, helps to transform us to another era in imperial times in Thailand.

The Manchester audience were on their feet at the end, awarding the cast with highly deserved standing ovation and that is testament to the great talent on the stage tonight.

The message of love and hope and the ability for things to change are the key central themes of this classic tale – and the music is truly wonderful.

The King and I is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th May, tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre to stage UK premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Manchester’s award-winning Hope Mill Theatre is to stage the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers +Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2020.

Cinderella will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

The production will run at Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020 and then at Clonter Opera Theatre, Cheshire from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June.

This will be the first time a fully-staged version of the show has been performed in the UK (following a recent one-night concert version in London).

Hope Mill Theatre will be holding open auditions in its search for the title role of Cinderella. The venue is committed to finding new and emerging talent across the regions and will be sharing details very soon of how to register interest in auditioning. 

Ted Chapin, President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, said: “I am thrilled that the modern Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be getting its U.K. theatrical premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. When this version opened on Broadway in 2013, its tagline was “Glass slippers are so back.”  With a wink to the Cinderella traditions of the past – except pantos! – and a solid foot in a world where people take more control over their own lives, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has already charmed new generations of musical theatre enthusiasts.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: The first ever show I watched as a boy was the story of Cinderella and so to be able to work on the UK premiere of the most recent Broadway version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s story is a dream come true. Having the opportunity to also collaborate alongside Will, who is both my business partner and life partner – and of whose work I have long admired – makes this journey even more special. I want this unique version of Cinderella to captivate audiences young and old, just as the timeless story did for me. This is the perfect spring treat and I cannot wait to see this story come to life at Hope Mill Theatre.”

William Whelton, Executive Director and Choreographer, said: “For many years I have wanted to produce  Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, so for this to be the first musical to be brought to life by Hope Mill Theatre’s new charity is very special. It is a more modern take on the classic fairy tale that everyone is familiar with, add to the story the musical and lyrical genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein and you have real musical theatre magic. We are also thrilled to announce that as part of our casting process we will be holding open auditions in our search for Cinderella. As a regional venue we are passionate about finding and nurturing professional talent from all over the country so find this really exciting and we can’t wait to meet new artists.”

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella runs at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020

The production then moved to Clonter Opera Theatre, Trap Road, Congleton from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June 2020

Tickets on sale soon!