Rogers & Hammerstein's The King and I is memorable to many as a film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner which focuses on a feisty British school teacher Anna and her relationship with the King of Siam. But it has also been seen on the stage with the likes of Elaine Paige, Jason Lee, Brynner himself and recently Stephanie Powers.
Essentially a character piece, we witness a relationship which starts off as a frosty confrontational experience - begin to thaw when both parties recognise cultural differences and begin to take on good qualities from each other. Sure, it's predictable and quite slowly paced but there are many beautiful scenes and the performances alone - give the piece quality and life.
Josefina Gabrielle is an absolute joy as Anna, as she imbues her with stern teacher qualities but also also conveys the vulnerable elements of her character - lending genuine poignancy to many of the scenes in act two. She sings with clipped tones and hits all of the high notes with ease. I have yet to see this fine actress deliver an average performance in the likes of Sweet Charity, Chicago and Me & My Girl and A Chorus Line as she is always reliably great and a chamelon. Even though Anna is not a stretch for her, she gives far more than is on the page.
Likewise, Ramon Tikaram gives a multi-layered performance, as he has great comic timing and highlights that beneath the tough exterior the King is a frightened man with too much power. His vocals are rich and the chemistry between him and Gabrielle is totally believable.
Of the supporting actors Daniel Cornish stands out as he plays a boy on the verge of becoming a man and his turn as Anna's son is convincing again because of the great chemistry he shares with Josefina. The romance betwen Tup-Tim (Claire-Marie Hall) and Lun Tha (Adrian Ll Donni) is more than a sub-plot and is incredibly romantic due to the spirited performances. A special metion should go to local children from Salford who play the King's brood as they add something special to this lively musical.
The songs of course are classics - although - "Shall We Dance" is the one on the audience's lips on the night I attended - partly due to Josefina Gabrielle's superb rendition and because it is the most famous of all the songs. "Getting To Know You" and "Whistle a Happy Tune" are also sang with panache.
David Needham's choreography has style and grace which matches the piece perfectly and Sarah Perks' set design places the audience in this grandiose world - transporting them without the aid of flashy gimmicks. Aside from a few dodgy accents amongst some members of the cast, much of what you see here will please lovers of the film and score.
Paul Kerryson's production is faithful to the original and even though the pace needs upping slightly and a few scenes could benefit from a cut here and there, his King and I is slick, romantic and perfectly played by a cast who live up to the meaning of the word 'team' as they all work wonderfully together and it's a fun and enjoyable evening - 'getting to know them.'