It’s always the best, when a show you didn’t have any great expectation of knocks you into orbit. But The King & I is simply a stunner.
This revival of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic was a joy from beginning to end. Combining elements of performance from the shadow theatre of ancient Asia to lavish dance sequences worthy of the West End, it was a treat for any lovers of live performance.
The King & I tells the classic story of an English schoolteacher, who ships out to Siam in 1865 with her young son to teach the many children of the king, who is eager they learn Western ways.
Each has something to learn from the other (“the original odd couple!” as the Simpsons gag goes), and the tale is a deceptively complex set of social, historical and political observations — if you care to notice them, that is — set across an incredibly pleasing score. Getting to Know You? Whistle a Happy Tune? It’s all here, plus numbers filled with such wonderful wordplay it makes you want to implode with joy.
Josefina Gabrielle channels her inner Julie Andrews to charm and entertain in equal measure. Ramon Tikaram gives a beautiful performance as the King of Siam, full of strength and vulnerability as required. It does the job perfectly for both. The beautiful scene where they finally dance and the king breaks protocol to place a hand around her waist was one that heard a whole audience draw breath in anticipation. That’s some serious old-school romance.
From the very first moments, it was clear this was something special. A feast for the eyes and ears, it was not a succession of snappy numbers, but rather long sequences of dance, performance and monologues that made the show quite extraordinary.
The set, complete with 20ft high Buddhas, was a delight, switching from city harbour to secret gardens in an instant. A classic show, expertly executed, the only downer was today’s Echo review denouncing the show as some kind of racist throwback.
Nonsense. With a ‘play within a play’ that comprised of one of the best-know anti-slavery novels of all time (a stunning 20 minute sequence devoted to an adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and a storyline similarly dedicated to ramming home the point there is no need for subserviance in modern life, as well as highlighting how people from incredibly different backgrounds can find that common love and respect, although the period element of the King & I remains, its relevance in musical theatre will surely never wain.
If it was a toss-up between this production and the recent adaptation of South Pacific, then this is the one I’d choose.
It was long — at one hour and 25 minutes for the first half alone, it seemed a bit much. But there was something about it. Those long sequences of dance, song, colour and style were made to mesmerise, and the show is just about as enchanting as one could get. Absolutely perfect for the Empire stage.