The King and I at the London Palladium
We’ve had to revisit a great many of our childhood classic stories with a wary eye – Dumbo and Song of the South to name a couple – and The King and I is no different. The caricatured otherness of the Siamese characters in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, once charming, takes on a reductive appearance in later life.
Bartlett Sher’s production stays true to the film and original stage version without doing much to address this point through direction, but it must be lauded for relying on a full cast of Asian performers. Two songs left out by the movie are reintroduced: Western People Funny, which sees the king’s wives befuddled by European fashion, and Shall I Tell You What I Think of You? which hammers home everything about the Crown and culture that Anna finds distasteful.
This revival isn’t a rethinking for a new century or an opened conversation, but a spectacle, a night of escapism, a nostalgic celebration of one of the longest-running Broadway shows of the 50s. Understood through that lens, it’s a lavish treat.
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe’s performances pay homage to those of Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. O’Hara, in particular, is a delight, her voice honeyed and note-perfect, her presence always effusively warm. Naoko Mori brings the role of Lady Thiang a steadfast dignity that is poignant to behold, and the flock of little children whom Anna teaches are show-stealers, every one.
Michael Yeargan’s set is eye-wideningly opulent and complemented by Catherine Zuber’s costumes, which are shimmering works of art. Mammoth moving pillars really come into their own during songs such as Shall We Dance?; Anna and the king dance joyously around the space as the pillars are raised and manoeuvred around them. Full of delirious energy, that scene is the show’s most heart-soaring moment.
The colours are sumptuous, the energy infectious and the costumes an absolute treat. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Photo: Matthew Murphy
The King and I is at the London Palladium from 21st June until 29th September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The King and I here: