The King and I plays the Buell Theater through Jan. 14. Courtesy of DCPA
BY CLAUDIA CARBONE
The 2015 award-winning revival of the beloved musical The King and I is on a tour stop at the Buell Theater. This dazzling production with a fabulous cast, gorgeous costumes and some of the best songs ever to come out of Broadway is an absolute delight on many levels.
The King and I is based on Englishwoman Anna Leonownes’s memoirs of her five-year stint as teacher in the Royal Palace of Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s. In 1944, Margaret Landon wrote a novel stemming from Leonownes’s writings. That inspired Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1951 stage musical with Yul Brynner, who also starred in the 1956 film version, cementing his ownership of the role of King Mongkut, for which Brynner won multiple awards.
The headstrong proper British widow Anna is beautifully played by Madeline Trumble. The arrogant king (Jose LLana) brilliantly brings his own brand of swagger to the role. Their clash of cultures is both endearing and volatile.
Hired by the king to tutor his many children and wives, Anna is not shy about attacking issues of slavery, tyranny and sexism, which makes this play relevant to our world today.
The Siamese women call Anna “sir” because she’s “scientific, not lowly like women,” explains Lady Thiang, head wife (Joan Almedilla). The king’s prime minister (Brian Rivera) warns her, “In foreign country, it’s best to like everyone until you leave.”
Mostly, the play is lighthearted and warm, with the Siamese people constantly fascinated with Anna’s billowing hoop skirts, the children’s growing affection for their teacher, and the teacher’s developing love for the king. Not until the famous “Shall We Dance” polka when the king slides his hand around Anna’s waist and they whirl around the room do we know for sure.
The family theme is also strong. The “March of Siamese Children” is an adorable scene where the students and their mothers are introduced to Anna with proud papa standing watch. Then, Anna sings lovingly with the families, “Getting to Know You.” Anna teaches her son Louis (Rhyees Stump) about being brave in “Whistle a Happy Tune,” and she wins over the king’s son and heir to the throne (Anthony Chan), even though it’s “A Puzzlement” to him.
The fatal love-story subplot between Tuptim (Q Lim in her national-tour debut) and Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao) gives us “Hello, Young Lovers,” “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.”
The play within the play, The Small House of Uncle Thomas, is an exquisite Siamese ballet interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin interwoven with other things they learned from Anna. This scene alone is worth the price of admission.
The King and I runs through Jan. 14. For tickets, visit denvercenter.org.
Claudia Carbone is an award-winning journalist covering performing arts, travel and dining. Follow her at Sleepin’ Around—A Hotel and Travel Blog.
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