Saturday, March 01, 2008

The King and I

Lush ‘KING AND I’ pleases at Carousel

There is a saying among theatre-goers that it’s never a good sign when one exits the theatre talking about the production’s sets and costumes. Well, in the case of Carousel Dinner Theatre’s ‘THE KING AND I,’ the likely departure conversation will be about the glorious sets and the magnificent costumes. That’s not to say the acting, dancing and singing are bad, they are all quite good, it’s just that the technical aspects of this particular production are so outstanding.

Artistic Director Sean Cercone has let loose big time on the production budget. Scenic Designer Robert Kovach and Costume Designer Dale DiBernardo have very successfully taken up the challenge and created striking visually images.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the kings of musical theatre in the 1950s and 60s. They wrote more classics for that genre than any other creative team. The list goes on and on, ‘OKLOHAMA,’ ‘SOUND OF MUSIC,’ ‘FLOWER DRUM SONG,’ and ‘CAROUSEL’ are only a few. Many consider ‘THE KING AND I’ to be one of their best shows.

‘THE KING AND I’ is based on the book ‘ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM’ by Margaret Landon. The plot was actually taken from a story by Anna Leonowens who was a school teacher to the children of King Mongukut, the King of Siam, in the early 1860s. Though the story is supposedly autobiographical, there are numerous questions about the accuracy of the story.

The Broadway production which starred Yul Brenner and Gertrude Lawrence, opened in 1951, ran over twelve-hundred performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The script was made into a film in 1956 starring Brenner and Deborah Kerr. Since Kerr was not a singer, Marne Nixon, the diva of voice stand-ins, did the singing.

The story starts with the arrival of Anna Leonowens, a widow from Wales and her son Louis, into Bangkok. She has been hired to teach the children of the King of Siam in the “scientific ways” of the Western world. In the process of her stay there are conflicts over her housing, the King’s “barbaric” control over his people, a visit from the British who may be considering taking over the country as a colony, and eventually the death of the king. All this encased within a glorious musical score that includes, “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You,” “We Kiss in a Shadow,’ and “Shall We Dance?”

R&H’s shows contain messages of societal ills. The theme was highlighted by a major song. In the case of “THE KING AND I,’ it is ‘A Puzzlement,” during which the King questions his role in bringing Siam into the “new” world, his ability to adapt to the changes and whether what is going on in the outside world is good for his people.

Carousel’s production is well served by its cast, which is the largest company ever to appear on the theatre’s stage.

Though he takes a little getting used to, due to a lack of strong physical presence, Francis Jue gives his own spin to the role. That interpretation generally works.

Jennifer Hughes is a fine Anna, though her speaking voice was occasionally a little high pitched, and she lacks some of the needed warmth that would have made the character more appealing. She sings well.

Jonelle Margallo (Tuptim) and JP Moraga (Lun Tha), both have nice voices and develop authentic characters as the young lovers.

Catherine Cheng Jones (Madam Thiang) does an excellent vocal rendition of “Something Wonderful.”

Both of the young boys, Jacob Rummell (Prince Chululongkorn) and Matthew Hemminger (Louis) have difficulty developing realistic characterizations.

Director Stephen Bourneuf and choreographer Vince Pesce do a nice job of creating the proper atmosphere and add some creative touches to the happenings.

The major flaw with the production is the overzealous orchestra who often drowned out the vocalists and the sound technician who often cranked the musical volume to an ear-splitting level.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE KING AND I’ is a musical theatre classic which gets a very good production at Carousel Dinner Theatre.