Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The King And I"

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entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"The King & I"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Turtle Lane's 2007-08 season is the classic 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King & I", one of their best works. Based on a true story about English school teacher, Anna Leonowens and her 7 years spent in Siam, this show is as fresh and meaningful to contemporary audiences as it was originally in "Anna & the King of Siam". It shows the difference of two cultures told amid 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 starcrossed lovers, it shows the evilness of slavery. A visually beautiful production with fantastic acting, singing and dancing by this huge cast. The expert direction is by Kristen Hughes while musical director Jamie Feinberg makes the vocalists and orchestra sound fabulous and Karen Fogarty creates all the wonderful choreography for the show including "The Uncle Thomas Ballet" and the show stopping polka "Shall We Dance". From start to finish this show will move you to laughter and tears in all the right spots and its reward is the rousing standing ovation at the close of the show.

Kristen blocks and directs this show wonderfully, creating picture postcard moments during it especially during "Hello Young Lovers", "March of the Siamese Children", the Finale of Act 1 and the death of the King scene. She directs the multitude of children with ease and her strong hand is seen throughout the performance by the topnotch portrayal of all the leading performers. Brava. Jamie leads her orchestra while playing the keyboard and making the musical numbers sound gorgeous with empathy or comedy towards the vocalists solos, duets or group numbers. Karen's dance moves can be seen during the ballet of Uncle Tom's Cabin with excellent work by Emily Earle as Eliza who flees wicked Simon of Legree. The polka in "Shall We Dance" is breathtaking, "Getting to Know You" dance is energetic and "Western People Funny" is comedic. Special mention of all the gorgeous and splendid costumes especially Anna's many hoop skirts made by Richard Itczak, bring the needed color and brightness to lighten up the show's pathos.

The two leads do outstanding work in their huge roles. Yolanda Farina steals the audience's heart the moment she enters her first scene as Mrs. Anna. From her excellent British accent to her lovely singing voice to her unbelievable acting prowess, Yolanda makes you laugh and cry in all the right places. (She wears a red wig during the show which makes her look like Maureen O'Hara but really is a pretty short haired brunette off stage.) She delivers all her songs with ease including "Whistle A Happy Tune", (to bolster her son Louis' courage when they arrive in Siam) "Getting to Know You", ( while dancing up a storm with the children) "Hello Young Lovers", (a poignant song about her late husband, Tom which she sings to the King's wives) "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You", ( a comic gem of a number with her throwing herself around the stage while berating the King with her lyrics) and "Shall We Dance'' ( a powerful and fun number which shows the depth of her relationship with the King) The closing scene of Act 1 where Anna continually keeps her head below the King's is hilarious while her argument scenes are dramatic especially the whipping scene. Yolanda also tugs at your heartstrings while reading the dying King's letter, in the closing scene with the children and at the death of the King. Michael Hsiao Botte plays the King. He gives the role a lighter edge than usual but in the dramatic scenes he captures the strength of the man. Having just shaven his head for opening night, Michael sings "A Puzzlement" which shows how even a King needs to question himself every now and then while giving the King a chance to show his relationship with the crown prince. The dancing number with Yolanda is a huge crowd pleaser while the whipping scene shows how he builds his anger to a high level of intensity before he breaks down. His Moses scene shows off his comic timing while the death scene captures the right amount of pathos. Wonderful job by the two leads.

Pia Mean as Lady Thiang has a phenomenal voice. Her majestic delivery of "Something Wonderful" is breathtaking with the lyrics and music moving Anna to return to the King. Pia gives the role of the head wife the necessary backbone to reprimand Tuptim for her betrayal of the King as well as to convince Anna to stay in Siam. She also gets to sing the comic "Western People Funny" ( about the difficulties of wearing swollen British dresses and leather shoes in Siam) with the funniest moment in the song coming when the wives throw their shoes offstage. The two starcrossed lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha are played by Katherine Sandoval-Taylor and Lucky Rattan. The gorgeous raven haired Katherine is fabulous in this role, giving the character the strength she needs to live in a foreign country as a worthless slave and concubine. Tuptim writes a story about the evils of slavery in America and adapts to her situation in Siam. Her fantastic soprano voice soars off the scale in all her songs which include the spine tingling "My Lord and Master" ( where she sings of her contempt for the King as her voice soars up to a high A #) and she sings the lead part and does the narration of the difficult "Small House" segment. She and Lucky who has a marvelous tenor voice, have two of the prettiest ballads in the show, "We Kiss in a Shadow" ( about how they can never love each other openly in which I loved the gliss at the end of the song) and "I Have Dreamed" ( where they plan to run away together to fulfil their dreams of loving each other at last which has one of the loveliest harmonies in it) Both numbers are about their unrequited love for each other but even though the love match is doomed both performers have you rooting for them to win against all odds.

The two young boys who plays the Prince and Louis are Nathan Yu and Nicholas Schur. They do excellent acting in their roles and move around the stage like veteran performers. Nathan commands the stage from his first entrance in the March of the Siamese children song where he makes sure Anna bows to him before he acknowledges her which is preparing him to step into the role of the future king. At the end of the show, the Prince shows how much Anna has influenced him throughout his time in her schoolroom. Nathan has wonderful interactions with the other characters and he and Nicholas do a superb job on the reprise of "A Puzzlement", where they wonder why adults act the way they do. Nicholas has a wonderful accent as Louis and he also sings "Whistle a Happy Tune" with Yolanda to open the show. He has some very funny liners and he makes them all hit pay dirt. The menacing Kralahome (the Prime Minister) is excellently played by Aaron Moronez. He shows his loyalty to the King and delivers a strong performance as his right hand man especially in the whipping scene where he berates Anna for having destroyed the King. Stephen Peters does double duty as the kindly Captain Orton and Sir Edward Ramsey, the British diplomat who is an old beau of Anna's. Steven Yu gets to show off his strong dancing ability as Simon of Legree as well as playing the Interpreter who gets abused by the Kralahome. Kudos to everyone who make this a show to be proud of. So for a trip back to Siam in the 1860's be sure to catch "The King & I" at Turtle Lane Playhouse. Tell them Tony sent you.

"The King & I" (9 November - 16 December)
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617)244-0169

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide