By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor
“East or West, home is best,” or in this case, the Vivian Beaumont Theater where audiences will witness the exquisite, marvelous and tear-inducing revival of The King and I. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is a musical for the ages, and thanks to Lincoln Center and this incredible ensemble cast, a new generation is traveling to Siam and falling in love with these classic characters and songs once again.
The King and I tells the story of Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher who is traveling from England to Siam with her young son, Louis. Anna is making the move to Siam to serve as governess to the king’s many children. While in this foreign land she will teach the children how to speak English and about the vast world around them. Upon arriving, things do not go as smoothly as Anna hoped, especially when The King proves to be more stubborn than she expected. Anna and The King clash on lessons and what is best for Siam from day one and what ensues is a beautiful, breathtaking musical about learning, acceptance and the importance of family.
Based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, which is derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, The King and I has become a Broadway classic. The music was written by the incomparable duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was their fifth musical written together. The original production of The King and I premiered on Broadway in 1954 starring Yul Brynner as The King of Siam and Gertrude Lawrence as Anna. That year it won Best Musical at the Tony Awards and further exemplified Rodgers and Hammerstein’s rank amongst Broadway’s best composers.
Since it’s original production, The King and I has been seen all over the world and has been revived on Broadway multiply times. One of the most notable editions of this classic Broadway musical was in 1956 when 20th Century Fox turned The King and I into a hit movie. Starring Deborah Kerr as Anna and with Yul Brynner reprising his Tony Award winning role as The King, The King and I was a huge box office and soundtrack success and earned Brynner an Academy Award. The King and I has transcended generations because of its heartfelt music and enriching story. This recent revival of The King and I may be one of the best this iconic musical has seen, and part of that is thanks to the outstanding cast and ensemble.
Leading off this all-star cast of The King and I is the admirable, elegant and six-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara. O’Hara is no stranger to the Broadway stage, or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s repertoire for that matter. O’Hara’s operatic and booming voice has played a part in countless revivals and new musicals over the past 18 years. She is best known for her work in The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, The Pajama Game and Nice Work If You Can Get It. Last season on Broadway she stunned audiences with her amazing, career-defining turn as Francesca Johnson in Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County, and this year she is back to her Rodgers and Hammerstein roots with The King and I. From the first second O’Hara stands on stage she commands the theatre. In her opening number, “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” she already has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. O’Hara makes the audience laugh and cry with a single breath and her performance as Anna may be one for the ages and could score her first ever Tony Award at this year’s ceremony.
O’Hara has several iconic moments throughout The King and I. During her number “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?” she provides one of the lighter moments in The King and I. O’Hara is able to let her hair down and provide the audience with some laughs. O’Hara has several classic, awe-inspiring moments alone, but her real shining moments come when she shares scenes with Ken Watanabe, who is making his Broadway debut in The King and I. Watanabe triumphs in the classic role of The King of Siam as he creates moments of pure heartache. Watanabe does an impeccable job at portraying a hardened, stubborn king who just wants what is best for his country. O’Hara and Watanabe’s chemistry is astounding. During the classic number, “Shall We Dance?” Watanabe and O’Hara cause the audience to rise to their feet in applause as they dance around the stage. Their love-hate relationship is perfectly portrayed by these two veteran actors and by the end of the musical, the audience is weeping over the relationship of Anna and The King.
O’Hara and Watanabe may be the stars of The King and I, however, the ensemble makes the musical a huge success. Ashley Park and Conrad Ricamora as Tuptim and Lun Tha respectively also stand out. Park’s incredible soprano voice echoes through the rafters of the Vivian Beaumont Theater in the lovely musical number, “My Lord and Master.” Her real shining moments come during her duets with Ricamora, who is making his Broadway debut after an outstanding year in ABC’s hit drama How to Get Away with Murder. Park and Ricamora have unmatchable chemistry as the star-crossed lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha and they create some of the most heartbreaking, tear-inducing moments in The King and I. Their first duet in the number “We Kiss in a Shadow,” showcases how perfectly their voices blend together. Ricamora’s illustrious vibrato coupled with Park’s booming soprano voice creates a sure to be classic team up. The duo is having a career-defining turn in The King and I and they are no doubt two of the most memorable performances.
2015 Tony Award nominee Ruthie Ann Miles is making a stunning, career-defining debut as Lady Thiang in The King and I. Miles’ amazing voice is showcased effortlessly in the number “Something Wonderful.” Her work as Lady Thiang is astounding as she portrays a woman who wants to protect Siam and her son with every fiber of her being. Her work with all of the young ensemble members that portray The King’s children is adorable as she chases them around the stage. Miles’ moments opposite O’Hara and Watanabe are also extremely memorable and it’s hard to imagine this revival without her.
Part of the success of The King and I’s revival is the incredible direction by Bartlett Sher. Sher is responsible for some of the most stunning musicals in this recent age of Broadway. He’s the creative mind behind The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific and The Bridges of Madison County. His work with Kelli O’Hara alone is Tony Award worthy and he can add The King and I to his list of accomplishments. Another contributing factor to The King and I’s success is the stunning, jaw-dropping, gorgeous costumes by Catherine Zuber. Zuber is responsible for the costumes in several Broadway shows this season alone, but The King and I may be some of her best work. The exquisite European dresses that O’Hara waltzes around in and the outfits that define Siam are nothing short of Tony Award worthy.
The King and I is currently turning heads at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in NYC. Nominated for nine Tony Awards this year, The King and I will surely walk away with something and has already won Best Revival of a Musical at the 2015 Drama League Awards. With its astounding direction, beautiful costumes coupled with the sheer talent emanating off of the cast, The King and I is a revival for the ages.
By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor