Review: The King and I musical is something wonderful with inspired casting
From February 28-March 4, the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre is currently playing host to one of the most iconic, classic musicals of the 20th Century, The King and I.
Best described as a play with music, rather than a traditional musical, The King and I graced the silver screen in 1956, starring the incomparable Yul Brynner as the ruler of Siam and the beautiful Deborah Kerr as Mrs Anna,
Based on true events and set in the Victorian era, the storyline follows the adventures of a widow, Mrs Anna Leonowens and her young son Louis, as she sets off across the globe to become governess to the wives and children of the King of Siam.
Anna and Louis begin to settle into their new lives, but before long cultural differences become evident, causing Anna to question the King’s morals and barbarous ways as he struggles to embrace the modern western world of which he so longs to be a part.
Previous stage versions of this show have had a huge cast and many changes of scenery, but the clever staging of this latest production just goes to show that if the director has imagination and foresight, a smaller cast can more than deliver.
There can however be no compromise on the orchestra, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s soaring score demands the very best musicians and plenty of them. Fear not. The UK musical supervisor, Stephen Ridley has ensured that nothing has been left to chance and his rendition of this unforgettable musical will give you goosebumps and heighten emotions.
The scenery and props were effective, but minimalistic, again testament to the excellent direction of Bartlett Sher and his team, and the lighting plot was atmospheric and in the love scenes, simply enchanting.
The costumes are sumptuous and authentic and complete the look of the show to perfection.
The casting of this show was inspired.
There were a few disappointed faces when they learnt that Call the Midwife star Helen George was indisposed and therefore would not be appearing, but as soon as the alternative Mrs Anna, West End star Maria Coyne took to the stage, all was forgotten.
In this role, she was simply a triumph, bringing depth of character and an incredible vocal performance. She was the epitome of a Victorian lady, and yet despite her seemingly calm exterior, still brought passion and emotion to every dramatic scene.
While the classic songs, I Whistle a Happy Tune and Getting to Know You, were highlights of the evening, her rendition of Hello Young Lovers was simply outstanding. I had tears in my eyes.
Broadway star, Darren Lee is perfectly cast as The King commanding the stage at every entrance.
His understanding of the character was so evident that you felt he was living and breathing every movement and exchange.
The chemistry between these two outstanding performers was palpable from their first scene together and just continued to grow throughout the show.
One of the most iconic scenes in musical theatre is of course the Shall We Dance number, where Anna and The King polka around the palace.
The anticipation of this scene was obvious from the interval onwards and Coyne and Lee certainly did not disappoint. I just wanted it to go on for much longer!
Despite some tense moments, the script of the show is generally very witty and amusing, especially the exchanges between the two leading characters. These lines were delivered with excellent comedic timing.
Moving on, there was a stunning vocal and dramatic performance from Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, whose version of Something Wonderful brought the house down.
Similarly, Dean John-Wilson as Lun Tha and Amelia Kinu Muss delivered one the most tender and romantic songs of the show, We Kiss in a Shadow, with all the desperation and longing of ill-fated lovers.
Caleb Lagayan as Prince Chulalongkorn gave a powerful performance, but also perfectly captured the uncertainty, vulnerability and fear of his future as King.
Charlie McGuire as Louis was lovable and charming, and certainly is one to watch as his career in theatre progresses.
The King and I contains an exceptional Siamese re-telling of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, entitled The Small House of Uncle Thomas Ballet, which was executed faultlessly by the outstanding ensemble, reminding us just what a unique and unusual piece of musical theatre this is.
Finally, the Siamese children were nothing short of a delight as they brough humour and fun to the proceedings and then in contrast the solo speech by a tiny little sole to Mrs Anna as she sat at The King’s deathbed was simply heart-wrenching.
The King and I is, if you pardon the pun, “Something Wonderful” and reminds us just why shows of the past should continue to be revived for many years to com.
Unmissable. Runs until tomorrow. Visit agttickets.com or visit the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre’s Facebook page to book