Touring – reviewed at the New Wimbledon Theatre, London.
A gem of classic musical theatre, The King and I is in top form as it embarks on a sparkling UK tour. Brimming with humour and character growth, Bartlett Sher’s production is a less menacing version of the show which still provides all you could ask for in a night out at the theatre.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score is the beating heart of the musical and truly stands the test of time; with stunning overtures and a whole array of musical treats, it’s wonderful to hear such a full and charging score played so well, especially for a touring production with only 11 musicians. Under Christopher Mundy’s musical direction, there’s not a moment of the score which lacks. At times there is a slight lack of balance between the physical instruments and the vocals but this is a minor flaw in a majorly good musical experience.
As the English school teacher Anna Leonowens, Helen George is brilliantly charming, making it clear why the kingdom falls so in love with her. There are moments where her vocals lack oomph and words are occasionally lost but overall her portrayal of Mrs Anna is sugary sweet.
To balance, Darren Lee is commanding as the King of Siam and frequently borders the line between scary and kind, but never quite shows a really terrifying wrath. What works well is the excellent chemistry between Lee and George, who from their very first interaction create a frisson of energy which flows throughout the whole piece. The pair bounce off one another so well and have an incredibly natural banter which is really great to watch.
Marnienella Phillips is a complete standout as Tuptim. Her vocal performance is so well supported and her evident classical training really fits the piece. Phillips also nails the emotional aspect when trying to escape with her forbidden love (the vocal powerhouse Dean John-Wilson). Cezarah Bonner is well rounded as Lady Thiang and Caleb Lagayan has some dynamic moments as Prince Chulalongkorn.
This touring version isn’t quite as grand as its West End counterpart which is to be expected, but it still manages to boast some great set (Michael Yeargan) pieces which help to bring the sprawling Siam palace Catherine Zuber’s costumes are very reminiscent of the time period and really move well on stage. For example in the iconic Shall We Dance number, Mrs Anna’s dress shines in the light (Donald Holder) and looks almost magical.
As touring productions go, The King and I really is the cream of the crop. It’s pretty long but not a moment drags and it really is all that’s good about old school musical theatre. Entertaining and enchanting, this show is well-worth seeing!