East meets West and vice versa in Olney Theatre Center’s holiday show The King and I and the production once again proves why this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is so popular. It has an unbeatable score and a bevy of cute children like The Sound of Music but with a more complex story and exotic setting.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, The King and I is loosely based on the true story of Anna Leonowens, who tutored the children of Mongkut, the King of Siam, for five years in the Siamese Grand Palace during the 1860s. Many of you will be familiar with the film version starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.
Anna and the King are not the traditional lovers in a musical comedy, but two forward thinking, educated individuals, who learn to respect each other despite their differences. Their mature relationship is juxtaposed with that of the young lovers Tuptim, a slave, and Lun Tha.
At Olney, Paolo Moltalban (a Broadway veteran of The King and I), plays the King of Siam. He is probably better known as the prince in the television version of Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston. Here, he plays a kinder and gentler King of Siam and emphasized his character’s humor and charm. Redhead Eileen Ward as Anna started off a little shaky but gained presence as the evening progressed. Together, they captured the chemistry of the relationship.
In the doomed romance, actors Eymard Cabling and Yoonjeong Seong made a very sympathetic and attractive couple. Seong had a lovely voice and impressive range. Janine Sunday, who I had previously seen as Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, gave warmth and depth to the role of Lady Thiang, the mother of the prince. Smaller roles such as Edward, the Kralahome, and the young prince were also played well. The part of Anna’s son Louis alternates between Henry Niepoetter and Ian Berlin.
The king’s children were appealing and adorable. Kids will get a kick out of seeing their counterparts on stage especially in “March of the Siamese Children” and “Getting to Know You.” The show is peppered with other familiar tunes such as ” I Whistle a Happy Tune” and “Shall We Dance.” The musical has some songs not in the movie such as “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” sung with aplomb by Ward. The play within a play ballet “Little House of Thomas,” which can be problematic was nicely handled.
Three golden screens open up to portray the port in Bangkok, the King’s library, the schoolroom, and Anna’s bedroom. The vibrant jewel tone colors and style of the Siamese costumes are in sharp contrast to the more modest neutral colored costumes of Anna. A couple of the costume choices were distracting such as Louis’ striped socks in the first scene and Anna’s black and white costume.
My 13 year-old daughter and her 12 year-old best friend had never seen The King and I before and loved the show. They had missed their favorite annual school event to attend that night and felt that it was “totally worth it.” Her friend exclaimed “Isn’t this great!” at the end of the first act. They sang songs from the show on the way home and late into the night. We all felt, however, that the show would be best for ages 8 and up rather than 5 and up because of its plot and the talk of the king’s concubines. There is an aborted whipping, polygamy, and two deaths.
The musical’s message of mutual respect and tolerance fits in nicely with the holiday season. This rendition captured the essence of The King and I, the tale of a “difficult” woman and a man, who “tried very hard.”
- The King and I runs 2 hours and 24 minutes plus a 15 minute intermission. It will be at Olney Theatre until January 5, 2014.
- Tickets are $32.50 to $65. The theater does offer discounts for groups, seniors, military and students.
- Beginning November 21, some cast members will sign autographs after every show.
- Olney Theatre offers light concessions before the show and during intermission. Souvenirs are also available for purchase.
- Olney’s 2014 family series will include Once on the Island, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and The Tempest, purchase your 2014 membership today!
- Photo 1: Paolo Montalban as The King in Olney Theatre Center’s production of THE KING AND I. (Photo: Stan Barouh)
- Photo 2: Shall We Dance? Paolo Montalban (as The King) and Eileen Ward (as Anna) in Olney Theatre Center’s production of THE KING AND I. (Photo: Stan Barouh)