Fiddlehead Theatre's first show of their tenth season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King & I", one of the duos best works. Based on a true story about English school teacher, Anna Leonowens and her 7 years spent in Siam, this story is as fresh and meaningful today as it originally was in "Anna & the King of Siam". It shows the difference of two cultures told against the backdrop of the Orient. It also makes a strong statement about a woman's place in the male dominated society of the 1860's and by using star-crossed lovers, it shows the evilness of slavery. Director Stacey Stephens chooses the best performers to bring this beautiful show to life, winning it and its talented cast a well deserved standing ovation as its reward.
Stacey's insightful direction and blocking of his 31 member cast, makes the comic and dramatic moments stand out. Pathos is the measuring stick of "The King & I" and this audience was moved to tears, making this a very successful show with its outstanding acting, singing and dancing. Music director Steven Hemingway also plays the piano with his 11 member orchestra. The empathy or comedy towards the solos, duets or group numbers comes pouring forth due to Steven's expertise. The gorgeous sets and backdrops are by Gary Poholek which Stacey designed. Stacey also designed the multitude of fantastic and colorful Oriental costumes as well as Anna's lovely hoop skirts. The two leads of this show do an outstanding job with their huge roles. Jennifer Mischley steals the audience's heart the moment she appears onstage as Mrs. Anna. From her splendid British accent to her beautiful soprano singing voice to her unbelievable acting prowess, Jennifer makes you laugh and cry at all the right places. Her songs included "Whistle a Happy Tune" which she sings to bolster her son, Louis' courage, "Hello Young Lovers" which is a poignant song about her late husband, (the star-crossed lovers meet in secret while she is singing it which adds a new depth to the lyrics) "Getting to Know You" which she sings with the wives and children while doing a fan dance near the end of it, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You" which is a comic gem with her throwing herself around the stage in her petticoat while berating the King for his boorish behavior, "Shall We Dance" which is a powerful and fun number where she teaches the King the polka and it also shows the depth of her relationship with the King and "Something Wonderful" reprise which is a gut wrenching, tear inducing duet between Anna and Lady Thiang right before Anna visits the King for the very last time. The closing of Act 1 where Anna keeps her head below the King's is very funny while her argument scenes with the King especially the whipping scene are very powerful. Jennifer also tugs at your heart strings while reading the letter from the dying King and at his death. Brava. Michael Lemieux plays the King. He adds a human element to this usually hard and unbending character. Michael plays the role with hair on his head and a small goatee. His songs include "A Puzzlement" which shows how even a King needs to question himself every now and then and "Shall We Dance" the exuberant dance number with Jennifer. Michael delivers his comic lines perfectly especially the Moses scene and handles the angry moments wonderfully especially the whipping scene where he builds to a level of intensity before he breaks down. His death scene is magnificent, filled with the right amount of poignancy.
Katrina Shinay as Lady Thiang has a gorgeous voice. Her majestic delivery of "Something Wonderful" is heart warming. The words and music move Anna to return to help the King. Katrina gives the role of the head wife the necessary backbone to convince Anna to remain in Siam as well as the compassion to comfort her son before his father's death. The two young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha are played by Mala Bhattacharya and David Costa who act and sing beautifully in their roles. Mala gives Tuptim, the strength she needs to live in a foreign country as a worthless slave and concubine. Her character writes a story about the evils of slavery in America (Uncle Tom's Cabin) and adapts it to apply to situation in Siam. Mala's fantastic soprano voice soars in her songs including "My Lord and Master" where she shows her contempt for the King and in "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed, the prettiest ballads in the show which sings with David. Both numbers are about their unrequited love for each other. David's strong tenor voice sells both these numbers with their harmonic endings. He is perfect for the part of this handsome young lover with his acting and singing skills but also gets to show off his dancing prowess in the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet by dancing the role of the Angel and lover, George. Mala also does a great job with the narration of the ballet and the four wives who sing this number are excellent as are all the dancers, too. Chris Caggiano is fabulous as the menacing prime minister of Siam, the Kralahome. His fierce loyalty to the King comes through with his strong delivery of his lines and his transition at the end of the show by evoking sympathy at the King's death is excellent, too. The two young boys who play the Prince and Louis are Ben Hirsch and Sean Gearin. They do a wonderful job in their roles as do all the children especially two tiny scene stealers Andrew Purdy and Julia Shapiro who are both in third grade. Ben delivers his lines with the regal bearing the role needs and makes a grand entrance during the March of the Siamese Children scene. Sean shows off his strong singing voice in "Whistle A Happy Tune" duet. Kudos to everyone who make this a show to be very proud of. So for a classic musical done extremely well, be sure to catch "The King & I" before time runs out. Run do not walk to the box office before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.