Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s masterpiece The King and I is based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam and the real memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s.
Premiering on Broadway in 1951, The King and I starred Broadway veteran Gertrude Lawrence and a young Yul Brynner. An instant hit with audiences, the show ran for nearly three years, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress (for Lawrence) and Best Featured Actor (for Brynner). Next, the King and I hit UK shores where it played the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1953 and was greatly received by audiences and critic alike. In 1956 The King and I got the silver-screen treatment and a motion picture was released, winning Brynner an Academy Award. Brynner came to dominate his role as the King of Siam throughout the years, including starring in a four-year national tour culminating in a 1985 Broadway run shortly before his death.
Since then The King and I has become a favourite with multiple productions popping up all around the globe including many productions by community theatres, school and university groups, summer camps and regional theatre companies. This enduring classic saw a fourth Broadway revival in 2015 at Lincoln Center Theater, this time directed by Bartlett Sher which received glowing reviews. Described as “sumptuous” (Times), this production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning four. A US national tour was launched soon after and this production transferred to the Dominion Theatre in the West End in 2018 and has been touring around the UK ever since.
Now, experience the enchantment of The King and I as it returns to the Dominion Theatre for a limited six-week run. Immerse yourself in Bartlett Sher’s captivating production and let the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece sweep you off your feet once more.
The King and I tells the story of the relationship between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher who is hired to tutor the King’s many children. Set in the 1860s, the musical explores themes of culture clash, power dynamics and the complexities of love. As Anna tries to teach the King’s children, she finds herself challenging the traditional customs of the royal court. The King and I is one of the greatest musicals from the golden age of musicals with one of the finest scores ever written featuring hits Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
For this production, the Tony Award winning Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, My Fair Lady, To Kill a Mockingbird) directs Call the Midwife star Helen George as Anna, Broadway stage star Darren Lee (Chicago, Guys and Dolls) as the King of Siam, Dean John-Wilson (Passion, Cruel Intentions, MTFestUK) as Lun Tha, Marienella Phillips (Henry V, Queen Margaret, To Henry With Love) as Tuptim, Cezarah Bonner (Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, Pirates of Penzance) as Lady Thiang, Kok-Hwa Lie (De Bananengeneratie, The King Of Hell’s Place, Here Lives Love) as Kralahome, Caleb Lagayan (Les Misérables, Spring Awakening, Newsies) as Prince Chulalongkorn and Sam Jenkins-Shaw (The Night Watch, Jane Eyre, Home, I’m Darling) as Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsay. The ensemble includes Chi Chan, Jeffrey Chekai, Emily Grace-Ling, Cher Nicolette Ho, Rachel Wang-Hei Lau, Daniel Len, Candy Ma, Rachel MacDougall, Amelia Kinu Muus, Yuki Ozeki, Kitt Pakapom, Prem Rai, Ria Tanaka, Hiromi Toyooka, Jasmine Triadi, Jensen Tudtud, Qinwen Xue and Jason Yang-Westland. As the Royal Children are Harry Altoft, Dexter Barry, Max Ivemey and Charlie McGuire play Anna’s son Louis; and Bethany Campbell, Coco Bridger, Cody Concha, Ethan Fung, Dulcie-Bella Hackley, Caitlin Lau, Khun Cho Lwin, Angelica Quynh An Nguyen, Tenzin Noryang, Sabri Leonel Puci, Niall Rina, Francis Benedict Sarte, Mia Snowdon, Yuen Zhai and Phoebe Zhao-Welsh.
Helen George as Anna is absolutely brilliant. Leading well-known classics like Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting To Know You and Shall we Dance, George easily handles the Rogers and Hammerstein score with vocal finesse and really makes the part her own. Darren Lee is a charming King of Siam and his overall Puzzlement was palpable throughout. Marienella Phillips and Dean John-Wilson as the tragic young lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha sang beautifully of their silent heart break which brought a tear to the audiences eyes. Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang was absolutely stunning. She held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout and her Something Wonderful brought the house down. The large ensemble played many characters to allow the story to unfold, including a beautiful The Small House of Uncle Thomas ballet in Act Two which featured Jason Yang-Westland in a stand out choreography moment as the Angel in a lovely pa da deux with Rachel Wang-Hei Lau’s Eliza.
Making this production even more of a spectacle is Michael Yeargan’s set design. Sprawling set pieces and rich colours envelop the Dominion Theatre drawing the audience into this classic tale. Bartlett Sher’s production touches on the social issues presented in the script with new light. For example, in the original production while the song Western People Funny may have been a slight tongue and cheek moment, Sher has his cast sing this directly at the audience turning a mirror on ourselves and asking us to consider our westernised culture and how alien this might appear to some. Sher also places power into the hands of the woman in this production, commenting on feminism and showing just how much the men in the story rely on their female counterparts for their intelligence and critical thinking. While not quite as radical as Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! recently seen in the West End, this production of The King and I allows us to reexamine the work while paying reverence to the beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein score.
Bartlett Sher’s production of The King and I is absolutely stunning. Fans of the musical will love seeing the familiar characters and hearing the melodic score once again and new audience members will be wrapped up in the glitz of this beautiful production. Playing a limited six-week run at the Dominion Theatre, make sure you get tickets to this musical theatre masterpiece.
Reviewed by Stuart James