Only occasionally do great musicals transfer on tour with the full-blooded vision of the original staging. The Lincoln Centre Theatre version of The King and I is one such show, delivering a genuine dose of Broadway to your doorstep.
Made famous with Yul Brynner in the titular role, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is a lauded musical of the novel Anna and the King of Siam, itself adapted from the real-life memoirs of writer-activist Anna Leonowens.
Tony awards and Oscars were heaped on the Broadway and movie versions of the musical. Today, Bartlett Sher’s epic 21st century staging arrives at Leeds Grand Theatre feeling as fresh as it did sixty years ago — and in some ways, it’s more relevant than ever.
That’s because The King and I marries ancient customs with progression, multiculturalism with romance, and science over superstition. It’s also a tale of activism, exploring an individual’s relationship with the wider world, offsetting cultural differences against universal values.
Set in the mid 19th century, the show interrogates a romance between Western schoolteacher Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam. It’s an extraordinary exploration of kinship, contest and empowerment from the classic broadway era, told through uplifting numbers such as I Whistle a Happy Tune and Getting to Know You.
The show has a broadly operatic quality in scope, song and aesthetic. A centrepiece ballet sequence inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin freely showcases Malcolm Forbes-Peckham’s musical direction in this vein with an impressive sonic breadth, animated with expansive choreography from Jerome Robbins.
Most captivating of all are the central performances. Jose Llana channels Yul Brynner’s comically stern expressions as the King, whilst handing over a resonating bravura vocal. Annalene Beechey is mesmerising as the genteel and gutsy Anna Leonowens, bringing naturalism to archaic dialogue and a songbird range to her musical numbers.
Paulina Yeung as the ill-fated Tuptim also steals scenes with an extraordinary vocal workout within a faultless ensemble — including a massive youth company who are sure to delight audiences in both their abilities and innate charm.
The King and I is a majestic, extravagantly staged musical honouring its story and score. Through performance, music, design and lighting, the standard of its stagecraft is near impeccable. This is a very special, heavily resourced experience that asks you to wholly lose yourself in its gilded beauty. Immersive, graceful and essential theatre.
Cast:Annalene Beechey, Jose Llana, Cezarah Bonner, Philip Bulcock, Kok-Hwa Lie, Ethan Le Phong, Aaron Teoh, Paulina Yeung, William Mychael Lee Writer: Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers Director: Bartlett Sher Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Running time: 150 minutes Dates: Tuesday 29th October – Saturday 9th November 2019.