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”.
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).
This new £3 million production stars Maria Friedman as Anna and Daniel Dae-Kim (from TV’s Lost) as the King. Also featured in the 75-strong company are Jee Hyum Lim (as Lady Thiang), Ethan Le Phong (Lun Tha), Yanle Zhong (Tuptim), David Yip (The Kralahome), Michael Simkins (Sir Edward Ramsay), Stephen Scott (Captain Orton) and three sets of children. The production is choreographed by Susan Kikuchi, with lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Bobby Aitken, and the 60-strong Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Gareth Valentine.
In last week’s packed openings diary, the only night available for The King and I’s press performance was Saturday, which put some critics – notably the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer - in a less receptive mood from the get-go. Beyond the scheduling, critics had problems with the “dated” material from the “least enjoyable” of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals and most felt that, despite the creative team’s best efforts to fill the space, the scale of the Albert Hall creates too much distance from the characters and the action, making “intimacy near impossible”. Still, music and production values rate highly, and there was abundant praise for Maria Friedman - who is “born” to play the role of Anna and boasts both “star quality” and an “immaculate” singing voice – and for Daniel Dae Kim’s “admirably burly, intransigent” King. In the end, audiences can expect to be “royally entertained”.