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Albert Hall Unveils Plans for £3m In-the-Round King

By • West End
There’s no expense being spared at the Royal Albert Hall (pictured) for the upcoming revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 Broadway classic The King and I, starring Maria Friedman and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim (See News, 11 Dec 2008). The fully staged, in-the-round production - which will run for just 20 performances from 12 to 28 June 2009 at the historic South Kensington landmark - will cost £3 million in total, more than any other musical production undertaken in the 15-year collaboration between the Albert Hall and impresario Raymond Gubbay.

In addition to a 75-strong acting company – including three sets of twelve children – and a 60-strong orchestra, the production will feature a “massive” set with standing pools of water, a life-size ship and other boats, and fireworks displays.

Director Jeremy Sams and designer Robert Jones unveiled the model for the set at an industry launch event today. Sams said he intends to “play with the space”, using the Albert Hall’s permanent décor – and its already “Oriental” colours of red, green and gold – to create a world that’s sumptuous at the centre but “fraying at the edges”.

“I wish we could have called it The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall,” Sams told Whatsonstage.com, “because the production as we’re conceiving it doesn’t work in any other arena.”

Jones said that, in addition to the scale of the 5,222-seat venue, one of the biggest challenges of creating a set in-the-round for the Albert Hall is to stop “thinking in pictures like you do in a proscenium arch, with actors arranged against a backdrop – here you have to think sculpturally”.

Friedman - who sang “Hello Young Lovers” from the shows at today’s event, accompanied by Sams on the piano – said the venue was also a major draw for her in taking the job. Though she’s performed one-off concerts in what is “definitely my favourite building in London”, the chance to have a longer run proved irresistible.

Based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, The King and I has music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical was famously made into a 1956 film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. The stage version was last seen in the West End at the London Palladium in 2000/1 in a revival that starred first Elaine Paige and then Josie Lawrence (See News, 5 Sep 2001).

Set in the late 19th century, The King and I tells the story of the British widow and governess Anna Leonowens, who’s brought to the court of Siam as tutor to the King’s children. Once within the sumptuous Royal Palace of Bangkok, Anna and the King grow to understand and respect one another and learn about each other’s cultures. The score includes “Shall We Dance”, “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Hello Young Lovers” and “Getting to Know You”.

- by Terri Paddock


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