After its award winning run in the west end, The King and I began its first leg of the UK tour in Edinburgh. I was looking forward to being able to see this production as the only previous encounter I have had with this show was watching the 1956 film version with Yul Brynner when I was very young. I remember watching this version for the first time and being captivated by the plot and score. I attended the press night at Edinburgh Playhouse and was ready to be immersed in this production.
The King and I follows Anna, a widow who makes the journey to Siam with her young son to become a school teacher for the King’s children. Anna and the King come from very different societal backgrounds and are therefore polar opposites when it comes to their views. As an audience we follow the pair on a journey which begins with some hostility toward one another to an eventual blossoming friendship.
Annalene Beechly is truly sublime in her role as Anna. She captures your heart from the moment she first steps on stage. She has the voice of angel and she works her way through the score effortlessly, particularly in the number “Hello Young Lovers”. She has the audience listening intently and hanging on her every note. Annalene is equal amounts of feisty and vulnerable and executes both of these magnificently. I was incredibly impressed by her relationship with each of the children in the show. There is a whole ensemble of children involved in this production but she somehow is able to create a connection with all of them. For every minute they are on stage together they all look like they are having fun, especially in “Getting to Know You” where all the children are dancing and singing around her in the classroom.
Jose Llana commands the stage as the King in the production. We are introduced to a regal and strong willed monarch who is passionate about his kingdom and will go to great lengths to protect it. His comedic timing is perfect and he makes us laugh with a number of silly facial expressions and of course his catch phrase “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera”. Much like Annalene, it is evident that Jose has a great backstage relationship with the children in the ensemble. Jose also won the audience over with his softer moments during the show. He played these moments with Anna perfectly. This is evident in “Shall we dance”
Cezarah Bonner gives a strong performance as Lady Thiang, she has a wonderful voice and does well to create a strong bond with both adult and child ensembles. This can be seen in the scene where her son is anxious about becoming King. She is a calming presence in this moment and the audience are able to connect with her. Philip Bulcock is double cast as Captain Orton and Sir Edward Ramsey in this production. He does well to distinguish between both characters by using different accents but also in his posture.
Kok-Hwa Lie is the right amount of intimidating as Kralahome, but we are able to understand his loyalty to the king and the relationship between them is executed well. Ethan Le Phong does a great job of playing the supporting male lead. He is charming and likeable and his chemistry with Paulina is entrancing.
Aaron Teoh graces the stage at the start of the show as a brooding and moody young Prince and by the end of the show the audience have followed him on a journey where he questions the world around him. He has a good voice and great comedic timing which we witness during “A Puzzlement Reprise”. Paulina Yeung has a vocal range to die for in her role as Tuptim. She makes it hard not to feel for her when she arrives back from running away from the kingdom. She is full of conviction in this scene and has such emotional depth.
William Mycheal Lee also gives a great performance as Phra Alack. He does well to alleviate tension in a few scenes by shuffling in to make announcements to the King. Joseph Black is excellent as Anna’s son. He has a wonderful voice and does well to create dynamic relationships in this show. The one relationship I enjoyed watching the most was between him and Arron Teoh who plays Prince Chulalongkorn. The pair are resentful to one another, but by the end of the show they have grown to like each other.
We cannot forget to mention the ensemble of children in this show. Every single child is bursting with energy and passion yet each one has their individual shining moments. This can be spotted during the introduction of the children to Anna. Each child comes onto the stage and has their own personality. The ensemble for the press performance was as follows: Victoria Alsina, Aran Forest, Riley Fusilero, Emily Hill, Andie Jordan, Kaitlyn Kou, Nauan Yu Liu, Shou Zhen Long, Annabella, Man, Kanon Narumi, Christopher Nguyen, Elizabeth Nurdin, George Ray Pang, Hisui Jade Shimada, Poppy-Mei Soon, Rahel Tran, Myles Tullett, Layla Waggott, Nikita Wong and Perrie Wong.
And of course the adult ensemble who work so well together as a whole, but also in the different roles they play in this show. For example, the King’s wives and the performers in the ballet in Act two. When they come to together to sing it is difficult not to get Goosebumps. The adult ensemble are as follows: Yuki Abe, Iroy Abesamis, Miiya Alexandra, Cletus Chan, Jessica Gomes-NG, Steven Hardcastle, Eu Jin Hwang, Aiko Kato, Misa Koide, Ela Lisondra, Jesse Milligan, Yuki Ozeki, Prem Rai, Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Ena Yamaguchi, Sian Yeo, Sunny Yeo, Samuel How, Nick Len, Jasmine Leung and Rachel Jayne Picar.
Rogers and Hammerstein music and lyrics for this show is heart-warming. The seminal “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance” are songs that everyone going to watch this show will already have experience of and you cannot help but smile when you hear them. But all of the music in this show is just wonderful and really heightens the plot. Anna’s character leads this show and this was unheard of at the time this show was written. I felt this production did well to touch on the issues of a woman not being afraid to stand up for her beliefs and go toe to toe with someone in power.
Barlett Sher’s direction is truly stunning and has given The King and I a new found lease of life for modern audiences. The show as a whole is extravagant and a real spectacle for the audience. The glittering costumes and set really help to transport the audience to Siam and I believe between extraordinary set pieces like the giant Buddha statue and the boat which sails on the stage at the beginning of the show and the way in which actors use the space is key to this spectacle being easily achieved. There is a real grounding in the way the characters are presented to the audience. They are so accessible and have real issues and problems which makes them relatable. Even though Bartlett Sher has created this extravagant world which is different to our own we can still easily connect with these characters and I think this is the key to what makes this story and production so wonderful.
The choreography is simply spectacular, it was full of naturalistic movements but with a twist. Jerome Robbins is known for taking an everyday movement and using that as inspiration for a whole musical number. I felt the choreography was full of these movements but embellished and given a modern and contemporary feel. Christopher Gattelli has done an incredible job of bringing Robbins choreography to modern audiences of this show.
Overall I thought this production was truly astounding. It completely exceeded my expectations. This musical is a classic but this production has managed to re-define it as a modern classic. Each and every cast member were wonderful and a joy to watch. It has everything a musical should have: amazing costumes, an ambitious set and stellar performances. I would highly recommend you get yourself along to see this stunning show.
Written by Alison Jeni Frater
THE KING AND I IS TOURING THE UK AND IRELAND, CLICK THE LINK FOR TICKETS BELOW: