Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The King and I
Now, 66 years later, The King and I is touring this country and has arrived in Cleveland for a 19-day stretch of performances. This production is everything an audience could want. Anna once again arrives in Siam to teach the King's children and to help modernize Siam. Catherine Zuber (costume designer) provides a spectacular visual treat for the audience. Of course, the costumes build to the glorious "Shall We Dance?" polka with the King in red and Anna in a pale-blue ballgown that sails out behind her. Michael Yeargan (sets) sails Anna and Louis, her son, onto the stage in a beautiful boat that separates and proves a ramp to take the boat's passengers to the dock. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the set is ordinary.
The King and I has some of the most beautiful music and lyrics written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). Many of the songs have become successes outside of the play. For example, consider: "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," "We Kiss in the Shadows," "Something Wonderful," "I Have Dreamed," and "Shall We Dance?". Rodgers and Hammerstein were at the peak of their powers when they wrote The King and I.
This touring company has a cast of 36 actors and dancers. The company travels with four musicians and hires 14 local musicians. The casting places an emphasis on dancers and singers. I don't remember ever seeing this many dance sequences and such a large dance company for The Small House of Uncle Thomas (ballet).
Laura Michelle Kelly is a beautiful Anna. She has a glorious singing voice that hits each note perfectly and with appropriate emotions. Kelly makes Anna confront the King with a toughness seldom seen on the stage in the mid-1900s. Jose Llana creates a King of Siam who is a tough law-and-order dictator. He stops the show with the line, "I think I will build a fence around Siam." He makes the King vulnerablethis is a king who wants to improve his country, but he doesn't know how to start. He wants Anna to lead him into renovating his country. He is excellent in this role.
Joan Almedilla brings Lady Thiang, the first wife of the king and mother of the heir to the throne, to the stage with dignity and style; Lady Thiang has power within the storyline. Almedilla has a strong voice trained for the opera stages, but, she's chosen Broadway and musicals. She was a crowd favorite at the performance I attended. The young lovers Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao are beautiful to look at, and they sing as well as lovers should sing. Their solos and duets are all the more poignant because of what is to follow in their story line.
Had the cast been willing to perform the show again, immediately after the curtain call, I would have stayed in the Connor Palace Theater and enjoyed the performance again.
The King and I continues in the Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, Cleveland, through February 26, 2017. For tickets and information, call 216-640-8800 or visit www.playhousesquare.org/broadway. For more information on the tour, visit thekinganditour.com.
Music: Richard Rodgers