London Palladium – until 29 September 2018
Bartlett Sher’s production of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is a real treat for the eyes and the ears.
It was really difficult not to dance the entire way home after watching this gloriously beautiful production that is a visual treat from beginning to end.
The King & I might feature many ideas that in 2018 feel uncomfortable with in regards to colonialism (such as when it comes to making the women of Siam dress in English fashion to appease the British at the ball for example, or even just attitudes towards women at that particular time which somehow Anna seems to forget is just as bad in Britain) – but it also features some of the strongest and most beautiful songs composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein that really ring out in the London Palladium.
Bartlett Sher’s production fills the Palladium with ease, wowing the audience with its splendour thanks to Michael Yeargan’s spectacular set design and Catherine Zuber’s beautifully dazzling costumes. But there is something reserved as well about the production – as if it wants to be overly precise that can mean occasionally it feels emotionally disengaged with its characters excepting for one or two moments.
But there is still plenty to enjoy about the production – not least Jerome Robbins’ playful and enjoyable ballet sequence ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ which choreographer Christopher Gattelli re-creates wonderfully in this production. Gattelli’s choreography throughout is slick and smooth, making the cast look as though they are gliding along seamlessly.
The orchestra as well are in fantastic form, allowing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious score to really take flight, particularly during ‘We Kiss in a Shadow’ so richly and delicately performed that it makes the heart soar, helped by the beautiful vocals of Na-Young Jeon and Dean John-Wilson. Every note rings around the London Palladium, allowing the audience to be truly swept away by it all.
In terms of performances it really is Kelli O’Hara’s evening. Her prim and proper Anna who is very forward in terms of her ideas on how women should be treated is a joy to watch (and cheer as she attempts to put the over-bearing king in his place). But her character is also endearing, leading to some charming scenes including the ‘Getting to Know You’ routine. Vocally, she charms and engages to full effect offering a rich variety of tones that are beautiful to listen to as her renditions of ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’ and ‘Hello Young Lovers’ prove.
Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe captures the King of Siam’s brusqueness with moments of humour perfectly. He captures the two opposing sides of the king one who values tradition and has a king’s pride (i.e. the scene in which he is close to whipping Tuptim) and the other in which he wants to push his country forward into a more modern way of living hence the need for Anna. It is this conflict that offers up an interesting chemistry between the two leading cast members that is believable and sincere.
But they are surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast – not least Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim, a character who begins to blossom and transform in a way that is mesmerising – even if the outcome is not what she hoped for. Jeon’s performance is beautifully natural – particularly her vocals that are sweetly sincere during ‘We Kiss in a Shadow’. Everyone in the cast makes a strong impact on the show.
Overall, yes there are problems with the story but with this production – just sit back,let the music sweep you away and enjoy every moment of this lavish production.