Broadway sensation The King and I launches in London’s West End
Following a very successful 16-month run on Broadway, The King and I finally hits the West End at the end of this month. The show will star the same duo that won the unanimous approval of audiences and critics across the pond, namely Oscar-nominated movie star Ken Watanabe and Broadway legend Kelli O’Hara, both making their West End debut. The story, based on the semi-fictionalised biography of a 19th-century governess, sees teacher Anna (O’Hara) deal with a series of cultural clashes as she takes care of the many children of the King of Siam (modern day Thailand), played by Watanabe.
At the launch of the production – held at the WAC Arts centre in north London – the cast, together with director Bartlett Sher, gave the press a sneak preview of what to expect. An open rehearsal showcasing some of the show’s most salient moments and popular songs (including the hits Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance?) was enough to convince everyone present that this is a top-notch ensemble, and that the leading couple still have the spark that worked so well in Broadway. Even without the regal costumes and grand set – which will undoubtedly add to the wow factor – the singing and choreography alone are enough to win an audience over.
The rehearsal was followed by a Q&A that saw the two protagonists and Sher talk about their experience. It seems that when Watanabe was first approached he was reluctant to join, but when the director travelled to him and explained his vision in great detail, he soon won the actor over. Sher recalled saying to him: “please come and be our king!”, knowing from the start that Watanabe had the stature to play this role. O’Hara agreed, explaining that the performer’s natural charisma made the dynamics of the court scenes realistic. “He’s our leader in the group, so for us actors, it all feels very real”, she adds. There is much admiration between the leading duo and they are very excited to be reunited on stage after two years.
As for the message of the musical, the director notes that it was important to steer away from orientalism and exoticism, and that he wanted the focus of the story to be the struggle between traditional cultures and modernity. O’Hara further adds that the humanity of the characters and the bonds they create are universal. The King And I opens on 21st June 2018 at the London Palladium, and there is already talk of national and international tours that may follow.
Photo: Paul Kolnik
The King and I is at the London Palladium from 21st June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The King and I here: