Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Theater Review: 'The King and I'

LOS ANGELES - Adapted from the best-selling 1944 biographical novel "Anna and the King of Siam" by Margaret Landon, and with an unforgettable score by Richard Rodgers (composer) and Oscar Hammerstein II (librettist/lyricist), "The King and I" is grand, glorious, rich with texture and old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.

Curiously, the 19th-century struggle between stubborn, widowed English schoolmarm Anna (the talented and lovely Stefanie Powers) and the enigmatic, all-consuming and equally stubborn King of Siam (a fine performance by a somewhat youngish Ronobir Lahiri) is still with us today.

Credit savvy director Baayork Lee with capturing the essence of the struggle on two distinct levels: as a clash of customs and as a clash of two strong-willed people who are inevitably drawn to one another.

All is set in the 1860s in the exotic capital city of Bangkok. Scenic designer Kenneth Foy has created multiple palace sets that are colorful and exotic; Roger Kirk's costumes are lush and lovely, and John McLain's lighting is visually effective.

"The King and I" tells the story of the determined Anna Leonowens, who comes to Siam to serve as governess of a cute gaggle of the king's children.

At last count he had more than 60 children (only a half-dozen appear onstage), a harem of royal wives and an overseer, Lady Chiang (the wonderful and lyrical Catherine MiEun Choi).

All seems well and in order until Anna and her son Louis (Patrick Minor) arrive. She comes complete with hoop skirts and radical ideas about the sanctity of love and marriage and the role of the woman.

While the Anna-King struggle goes on, another story takes place: that of star-crossed young lovers Tuptim of Burma (the compelling Michelle Liu Coughlin) and Lun Tha (Martin Sola), who are forced to live in the palace of the king.

When she sings "My Lord and Master," we immediately get the picture, and when they sing "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed," we realize their hopeless plight.

Still, it's with Anna and the King that we share most of the time. Anna sings to the royal children the charming "Getting to Know You," and both score well with "Shall We Dance?"

And, of course, Tuptim and the Ensemble stop the show with their Siamese version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" -- literally translated as "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" -- complete with a Buddha, snow flakes and a frozen river.

And don't forget the children: "The King and I" is fit for all ages.

Presented by the Independent Presenters Network

Cast: Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsay: Hal Davis; Louis Leonowens: Patrick Minor; Anna Leonowens: Stefanie Powers; The Interpreter: Scott Kitajima; The King of Siam: Ronobir Lahiri; Lun Tha: Martin Sola; Tuptim: Michelle Liu Coughlin; Lady Thiang: Catherine MiEun Choi.

Credits: Music: Richard Rodgers; Book/lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II, based on "Anna and the King of Siam" by: Margaret Landon; Director: Baayork Lee; Choreographer: Susan Kikuchi, recreated from Jerome Robbins' original choreography; Scenic designer: Kenneth Foy; Costume designer: Roger Kirk; Lighting designer: John McLain.

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