Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The King and I"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd,
based on the novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon

direction and concept by Stacey Stephens
choreography by Samantha Brior Jones
musical direction by Steven Hemingway

Anna Leonowens … Jennifer Mischley
King Mongkut … Michael Lemieux
Lady Thiang … Katrina Shinay
Kralahome … Chris Caggiano
Tuptim … Mala Bhattacharya
Lun Tha … David Costa
Louis … Sean Gearin
Chululongkorn … Benjamin Hirsh
Captain Orton; Sir Edward … Bob Parsins
Interpreter … Jordan L. Greeley

Men’s Ensemble:
Jordan L. Greeley; Nick Laroche; Dan Gravely

Atia Gravely; Linda Cohn; Hannah Cohn; Nina Lupan;
Samatha Luo; Kara Moulter; Julia Nagle

The King’s Children:
Abigail Kopel; Emily Paley; Sash Gardner; Isabelle Carr;
Petal Carr; Jamie Winn; Lauren Winn; Kathryn Luo;
Julia Shapiro; Andrew Purdy; Savannah Horton; Haley Horton

Music Director; Piano … Steven K. Hemingway
Bass … Ryan Foster
Cello … Joanne Osky
Viola … Colleen Hamilton
Violin … Shannon Robinson
Violin … Lisa Bolger
Oboe … Leah Daniels
Flute … Julie Asztalos
Bassoon … Alex Amann
Trombone … Taylor Hartstein
Horn … Lizz Mediche
Trumpet … Callie Parker

In Ethan Mordden’s book DEMENTED, his take on opera sopranos, Mr. Mordden states that the general public will always prefer a diva’s staircase entrance over such works as WOZZECK, despite being lectured on how great they are; a similar case can be made with musicals: Rodgers & Hammerstein continue to be box office while Mr. Sondheim remains an acquired taste. Not that everything R&H touched turned to gold: ALLEGRO and ME AND JULIET proved disappointing and PIPE DREAM was an out-and-out flop; R&H peaked midway in their career with THE KING AND I where Victorian schoolmarm Anna Leonowens brings Western civilization and sheep-eyed love to King Mongkut of Siam and it remains a clever fusion of showmanship and the then-revolutionary Musical Play that called for singing actors, not stars, and choreography that grew out of character, not dance for dancing’s sake --- R&H flourished in conservative times and now that the pendulum is swinging that way, again, their canon isn’t so corny, after all: you just have to readjust yourself to bounce and sweetness, optimistic endings and more hit tunes than you can shake a stick at.

The Fiddlehead Theatre production of THE KING AND I was an entertaining-enough community affair despite its sour orchestra and an ample Eliza fleeing on one foot in the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet; if the Anna is a good den mother/hostess, the evening can get by on exotic visuals and Asians being the inscrutable Other. Happily, Jennifer Mischley’s Anna was more than good, brimming over with R&H sincerity and heart, and whenever Ms. Mischeley was away she left statues in her wake --- if being Asian means standing stock-still, director Stacey Stephens failed to illuminate those statues from within nor did he bother to camouflage white faces (oddly, much of the singing was directed at the audience rather than being staged as interaction amongst the characters --- so much for the Musical Play). Michael Lemieux’s young, buzz-cut King was the most arresting statue and he, too, played front and center more than encircling the Western woman who fascinates and infuriates him; thus, the couple’s growing love interest was nil up until “Shall We Dance?” when Mr. Lemieux slipped an arm around Ms. Mischley’s waist and she melted against his hardness --- their sudden charge points out that while Anna may be a pillar of wisdom, she needs the King’s machismo to set her widowed heart a-beating, again. (Oh, those Bad Boys!) Katrina Shinay made a sinister-looking Lady Thiang but her vocals reaped applause almost as hearty as what was showered on Ms. Mischley’s solos. (Lady Thiang's Act Two number, "Western People Funny" was dropped, no doubt, for political correctness.)

Mr. Stephens may not have brought out the best in his homegrown cast but he compensated with his pretty-pretty costumes and settings --- interesting how R&H can still win over an audience with unpolished results; Mr. Sondheim cannot. Sometimes, it pays to be Popular.

"The King And I" (13 - 22 October)
Studio J, Upper College Road, KINGSTON RI
1 (781) 762-0528

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide