London Palladium – until 29 September 2018
We heard this week that The King and I has broken, or rather smashed, box office records, and I was excited to see if it would live up to its hype. Of course, I’d already had a glimpse of rehearsals so I knew that there wasn’t much doubt that it would.
Composed in 1951 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, The King and I tells the story of a King struggling with upholding tradition and modernisation. A familiar tale which has many other subtexts if you want to explore them.
There will be many crying out the lines ‘oh no not another revival of an archaic musical’ and as a champion of new writing that is a challenge to myself too. However, this musical is as relevant today as it was in 1951. I mentioned the storyline above and you don’t need to look too deeply to realise that there is racism, fake news, feminism and strong woman characters all there for the taking.
It is, however, the direction (Bartlett Sher), set design (Michael Yeargan), choreography (Jerome Robbins) and the interpretation of the cast which is the reason why I awarded it the full five stars. Whilst many of you know I’m a positive reviewer anyway, I assure you that this is an event and not just any production. This is special etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…..
Kelli O’Hara, famed as being the Queen of Broadway, demonstrates exactly why she has earned this term of endearment. O’Hara’s supreme vocal talents and characterisation bring a freshness to her role as schoolteacher Anna. Playing the title role of the King, Ken Watanabe is a formidable figure. Although vocally he is sometimes overpowered by both orchestra and his co-stars this does not detract from his solid portrayal.
There were many other performances that I enjoyed immensely, however I can’t mention them all, so here are just a few Jon Chew, Na-Young Jeon, Naoka Mori, Dean John-Wilson and Ena Yamaguchi.
This score has not always been a favourite of mine, but now I realise my previous lack of appreciation of it, probably comes down to the Orchestra and cast performing it. Both here were equally outstanding and simply bowled me over. Not overly known for liking long productions, the almost three hours here simply flew by and I astounded myself by thinking – I just don’t want this to end.
I could continue to wax lyrical and whilst there a couple of things that irked me I cannot fault the sheer entertainment value of this production. It really is a visual spectacle that is worth seeing. The posters state it is ‘The Theatrical Event of 2018’ and to be honest after seeing it I agree that you’ll be hard pushed to see something of this lavish magnitude or scale.
If you have tickets – congratulations you are in for a treat! Still thinking about it? Well don’t delay because as I stated at the start it’s breaking box office records and it is only on a short run. This production is a sublimely exquisite staging of a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show. Finally – all hail Broadway Queen Kelli O’Hara for bringing her inimitable characterisation and vocal supremacy to her portrayal of Anna.