Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, The King and I, has waltzed into San José and stolen its audience’s hearts. With the world and country seeming to grow more divided by the day, this heartwarming show about the downsides of colonialism and the joy of learning about other cultures feels more poignant than ever.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, the classic musical follows schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens as she travels with her young son to the court of Siam (modern-day Thailand) to teach the King’s children and wives. She comes to teach English and introduce western science and philosophy, but ends up teaching western etiquette also and advising the King more than anyone thought possible. But, in keeping with Oscar Hammerstein’s beliefs, the show isn’t really about westernizing Asia, but instead, two cultures working together and learning about each other to create a better world.
This classic musical is worth seeing in any form, but especially in this stunning touring production from San Francisco native and Tony-Award winning director, Bartlett Sher. His 2015 Broadway production of The King and I, which sparked the tour, won four Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical. Costume designer, Catherine Zuber also won the Tony for the show and returns for this tour. Additionally, the beautiful set design by Michael Yeargan creates a sense of 19th century Siam better than a photograph ever could. The set gives the characters a living world, edged with gold, in which to tell their stories. Silks are used liberally, as props, parts of the set and in the costumes. The fabric lends its lush but light aspect to the show, perfectly embodying the feeling of the palace. The show is beautiful and touching, and the talents of the creative team are evident in this beautiful touring production.
The actors, too are wonderful. Laura Michelle Kelly is divine as Anna. She brings depth and sincerity to the character as she navigates her ever-changing position in the Siamese court. Kelly displays the poise and grace of a proper Englishwoman of the period while also embodying the character’s strength of will and love for her pupils.
Q Lim is also lovely in the dynamic role of Tuptim. The actress has a beautiful voice that she uses to great affect as both a young woman in love and a slave attempting to be free.
It is also worth mentioning that this production of The King and I doesn’t fall into the most common pitfall of the show—whitewashing. The show is set in 1800s Siam, and thus all but four characters are supposed to be Siamese. Many productions seem to forget this fact and cast actors of European decent throughout. Happily, this show is packed with talented actors with Asian ancestry.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is a great show to see on every level, but it’s rare to be able to see it so exquisitely crafted by both cast and crew. This show is one that you won’t want to miss.
The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is playing at San José’s Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd. for only one week, through February 25, 2018. Tickets range from $48–$128.