Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The King And I"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"The King And I"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

''THE KING & I''

Reviewed by Tony Annicone Reagle Players' second production of their 39th summer season is the classic 1951 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 to contemporary audiences as it was originally in "Anna & the King of Siam". It shows the difference of the 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 star-crossed lovers, it shows the evilness of slavery. From start to finish, this show is a masterpiece of American musical theatre. Director Bob Eagle melds his huge cast into acting dynamos, while musical directors Paul Katz and Jeff Leonard make the vocalists and orchestra sound fabulous and choreographer Gemze de Lappe who danced as Simon Legree in the original Broadway show and in the movie, recreates Jerome Robbins original choreography, culminating into a Broadway caliber show, which is rewarded with a rousing standing ovation at the close of the show at the expertise of all these people. Bravo.

Bob Eagle obtains the best from all his performers from age 4 to the oldest cast member. His insightful direction and blocking of his huge cast make the comic and dramatic moments come to life. The dramatic scenes were filled with pathos, moving the audience to tears. The orchestra with requisite harp, brings the plentiful recognizable numbers to their full glory with Jeff as the conductor while the vocalists soar in their solos, duets and group numbers due to Paul's expertise at vocal coaching. Gemze's choreography is splendid from the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet with her fantastic dancers shining in it, to the fan dance, the March of the Siamese Children and the show stopping "Shall We Dance". The finishing touches to this sparkling production are the numerous sets designed by Richard Schreiber, and adapted and painted by Matt Rudman with the palace sets being very impressive, also a word of praise for the multitude of gorgeous costumes provided by Costume World Theatrical and the brilliant lighting design by David Wilson.

The two leads do outstanding work in their huge roles. Sarah Pfisterer steals the audience's heart the moment she makes her first entrance as Mrs. Anna. From her splendid British accent to her beautiful singing voice to her unbelievable acting prowess, Sarah makes you laugh and cry in all the right places. Her voices soars in all her numbers including "Whistle a Happy Tune" to bolster her son's courage in a foreign land, "Getting to Know You" which she sings with the wives and children and doing a fan dance near the end of it, "Hello Young Lovers'', a poignant song about her late husband which she sings in the first act to the wives and to Tuptim and Lun Tha in the second act, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You", a comic gem of a soliloquy in which she berates the King while throwing herself around her bedroom in her petticoat and "Shall We Dance", a powerful and fun number in which she teaches the King how to polka as well as showing her deep relationship with him, too. The dance is breathtaking as they dance around the entire stage. Sarah's argument scenes with the King crackle and she tugs at your heartstrings while reading the dying King's letter and in the closing scene with the children and at the death of the King. The closing scenes of both acts are picture postcard tableaus which are outstanding. David Scannell makes the King more human in this version in what can be a usually hard and unbending role. In his song "A Puzzlement", he shows that even a King needs to question himself every now and then. David handles the angry moments like a pro especially the school room scene as well as the whipping scene where he builds to a level of intensity before he breaks down. His Moses scene, the party scene and the dance scene show off his comic timing with the "Shall We Dance'' number being a crowd pleaser. The King's death scene is magnificent, filled with the right amount of pathos. Wonderful job by the two leads.

The head wife, Lady Thiang is excellently played by Lydia Gaston. She has a phenomenal voice and her majestic delivery of "Something Wonderful" is breathtaking. Lydia gives this role the necessary backbone to stand up to Tuptim as well as to convince Anna to stay in Siam. She also provides the warmth the role needs in her relationship with her son, the Crown Prince. The two young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha are played by Yuki Sugita and Marcus Calderon who act and sing beautifully in their roles. Yuki 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 and adapts it to apply to her situation in Siam. Yuki sings her contempt for the King in "My Lord and Master" where her voice soars off the scale to a high A sharp and she narrates the ballet scene wonderfully with the others glaring at her when she condemns Simon of Legree and verbally attacks the King near the end of the scene. Marcus excels in this role and he and Yuki have two of the prettiest ballads in the show, "We Kiss in a Shadow" (loved the gliss at the end of the duet) and "I Have Dreamed". Both songs are about their unrequited love for each other and even though their love match is doomed both of these young performers have you rooting for them to win against all odds.

The two boys who play the Prince and Louis are Jonathan Wan and Alec McHugh. They do excellent acting, singing and dancing work in this show as if they were veteran performers. Jonathan who is a Senior in high school, plays this younger version of the future king who has been influenced by his school teacher. He delivers his lines with the regal bearing the role needs with a very impressive entrance in the March of the Siamese Children song and he also has great interactions with the King, Anna, his mother and Louis. Jonathan and Alec do a superb job on the reprise of "A Puzzlement" in which they wonder why adults act the way they do. Alec who is a seventh grader, has a perfect British accent as Louis and sings the opening number wonderfully with Sarah, showing off his boy soprano voice. He is very comfortable on stage and performs the role with ease. The menacing Prime Minister, the Kralahome is played beautifully by Scott Kitajima. He shows his loyalty to the King by making Anna wait around in the Palace for three weeks on her arrival and his argument scene with Anna after the whipping scene is sensational. The friendly, Captain Orton is played by character actor, Ron Brinn while Anna's old friend, Sir Edward Ramsey is comically played by R. Glen Michell. The chorus numbers by the wives and children are fantastic especially "Small House of Uncle Thomas". The leading characters in the ballet are superb dancers with Michiko Takemasa as Eliza, Yuki Ozeki as George, Elena Zahlmann as Simon, Shanna Heverly as Little Eva, Rachel Bertone as Topsy and Rachel Goldberg as Uncle Thomas. (The youngest child in this show is James Chong who is four years old but paid attention and did the show perfectly. He didn't speak a word of English when rehearsals first began but is picking it up rather quickly now.) Kudos to all cast members who made this a topnotch Broadway style show. So make sure you catch this version of "The King & I" which is definitely one of the must see shows of this summer. Tell them Tony sent you.

"The King And I" (12 - 21 July)
Waltham High School, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide