Reviewed by Jodie Crawford
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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.
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.
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.
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.