Thursday, March 24, 2005

Houston: Capsule Reviews

The King and I "Shall we dahnce?" asks Anna (Stefanie Powers) in her best charm-school, upper-crust accent, extending her lace-gloved hands to the imperious King of Siam (Ronobir Lahiri). In Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 Tony award-winning classic musical, their last great one, this definitive scene -- in which polka stands in for sex -- packs a punch. The king and Anna, the young widow and governess to his children, embrace, the music swells, and off they gallop around the stage, moving to that ethereal, bouncy melody. It's music theater at its most sparkling. In this Theatre Under the Stars revival, however, the heat's been turned down. Powers has spunk and the right amount of propriety, but there's a serious lack of chemistry between this governess and the autocratic, yearning-to-be-benevolent ruler. Lahiri plays the King by following Yul Brynner's sterling interpretation, speaking his songs and blustering mightily. But he misses the exotic, animal danger that Brynner so naturally possessed. The beneath-the-surface spark that drives this West-meets-East tale and gives it sensual weight just isn't there. The most memorable sequence is a faithful restaging by Susan Kikuchi of the brilliant Jerome Robbins's "Little House of Uncle Thomas" ballet (one of Robbins's finest works), while the best voice belongs to mezzo Catherine MiEun Choi, as first wife Lady Thiang, whose deeply felt anthem "Something Wonderful" almost stops the show. The show looks great, though, with enough silk and gold lame for a dozen productions of Scheherazade. Through April 3 at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.

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