Stephen Rayne's new production of Roger and Hammerstein's classic musical The King and I retains the songs that people know and love, but its essence comes from Margaret Landon's celebrated novel Anna and the King of Siam.

Set in the early 1860s in the Royal capital city of Bangkok in the Kingdom of Siam, the story follows straight laced English school teacher, Anna (Elizabeth Renihan) and her attempts at westernising the King (Kevin Gray) and his extended family. He demands that people bow to him; she demands that he must begin to respect women, hence a power struggle begins.

The sheer joy of this production, like The Sound Of Music is seeing the stern, stubborn male stare in awe as the governess mesmerises both him and his children, enabling them all to grow. Gray brings a slice of New York to the regions as he reprises his Broadway role as the King. His performance is staggeringly heartfelt and full of depth. He manages to be both scary and funny; he also invites the audience to empathise with this great man of tradition and judging by their enthusiastic applause he achieves this very well.

Renihan brings a new edge to Anna. She is at times spiky, matriarchal and cynical but always warm and forgiving. Her singing voice is beautiful and during her rendition of "Getting To Know You" there isn't a dry eye in the house. "Shall We Dance" highlights the leads' amazing chemistry very well indeed.

Yanle Zhong deserves a special mention as Tuptim, one of the King's many lovers. Her powerful, operatic voice sends shivers down the spine and provides the musical with a slice of realism which never jars with the upbeat numbers. The whole cast give marvellous performances; including the hard working ensemble.

Rayne manages to juxtapose some of the darker aspects of the novel alongside the songs. This works amazingly well and provides the audience with a much clearer idea of what motivates these timeless characters.

The only downside is Brian Tohmson's regal set which often looks swamped on such a big stage. Despite that this lovely production will leave you "Whistling a Happy Tune" for the most part until the emotive, heartbreaking finale when you will probably shed a tear.. This sumptuous production is well worth getting to know.

- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Manchester)