Thursday, June 1, 2017

CT Theater Review: The King and I -- The Bushnell

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly. Photo: Matthew Murphy
The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Choreography by Christopher Gatelli (based on the original by Jerome Robbins)
The Bushnell

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The tour of Lincoln Center Theater's Tony-Award-winning production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic about a 19th-Century English school teacher who goes to Siam to teach the wives and children of the king. Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) struggles to adjust to the new culture to which she and her son Louis (Graham Montgomery) have arrived. Women are nothing more than property -- literally -- as Tuptim (Manna Nichols) is brought from neighboring Nurma as a gift for Siam's king (Jose Llana). Anna tries to lift the poor girl's spirits by arranging secret meetings for her with her true love,  Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), but the couple is doomed when the King's lead wife, Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla) finds out. Meanwhile, Anna develops a bond of friendship with Lady Thiang, her son and heir to the throne Prince Chulalongkorn (Anthony Chan), with her students and also with the king, who is surprised as she that the two might become very fond of each other as Anna helps him steer his country toward 1865's  modern west.

What Are the Highlights?
That score! One of the best ever written for the stage, it gives us "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," and "Shall We Dance," among others. Kelly and Llana sing their roles well and have a nice rapport. In addition, Llana portrays the king with a fun side that is engaging (and he certainly welcome -- I saw Ken Wantanabe in the role on Broadway and could not understand a word he said even though I know this script be heart. It was the only flaw in an otherwise brilliantly staged production by Bartlet Sher)

Choreographer Christopher Gatelli wisely doesn't fuss too much with the brilliant original choreography of Jerome Robbins (immortalized in the movie starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr) and the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas," is a pleasure.

Also bringing to mind the originals without directly copying are the stunning costumes by Catherine Zuber (the Shall-We-Dance ball gown is lovely and doesn't disappoint).

Lady Thiang and Tuptim show a little more backbone in this production and stand out.

What Are the Lowlights?
The tempo (music is supervised by Ted Sperling and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett) is a bit slow at times and some of the singers come in off cue and have some difficulty hitting or holding notes and don't enunciate consonants at the end of words. This is an Equity Broadway tour. I expect better.

Young Louis is sporting some sort of weird, wooden sounding accent, but I don't find a dialect coach credited, so perhaps that is why.

Michael Yeargen's looming, but stark sets don't translate as well in the scaled-back version for the tour, but still impress. Chulalongkorn somehow looks older than the king.

More Information:
The King and I polkas across the Mortensen Stage, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through June 4. Run time with an intemrission is just under three hours.Performances are tonight at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. bushnell.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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