(seen at the afternoon performance on 14th July 2018)
The monkey has always opined that "The King and I" is the greatest musical
written to date. It knows that Andrew Lloyd Webber favours "South Pacific" and its
true that it does have even more luscious music in places... but as an overall
packages of songs and story - this hits the spot. So does this production,
imported as far as possible in its entirety from a Tony Award winning run on
Broadway. There is no doubt it will add Oliviers etc, etc, etc, come awards time
in the UK.
Director Bartlett Sher and Choreographer Christopher Gatelli
re-examine the whole concept and staging, to come up with a fantastically sharp,
focused view of Siamese Court life. Michael Yeargan leaves space for bustling
crowds on his set, with a nifty boat, too (sit on the low numbers side in the
stalls for greater effect). Catherine Zuber comes up with luxurious costumes for
all, the crinolines a particular triumph. In the pit, Stephen Ridley can't help
singing along as he controls the best orchestra the budget can muster. A harp
gives a taste of quality and the best lavishness possible is achieved - Scott
Lehrer keeping the sound crystal clear.
And so to the cast. Ken Watanabe
brings a touch of Eric Morecambe to the King, and in a good way. Despot, yes,
but also child-like and certainly making better question than anyone has answer.
His infatuation with Anna Leonowens (Kelli O'Hara) is obvious, and hers as
clear. O'Hara's West End debut is a triumph of the highest order, reminding us
just what being a leading Broadway performer means.
Smaller roles are also
beautifully filled. To get the cute out of the way first, yep, the kids are
wonderful - a special note to Lewis Fernee as Louis, whose work with far older
Jon Chew - Prince Chulalongkorn - is impressive. His mother, Naoko Mori (Lady
Thang) is a quiet diplomat in Court, but clearly loyal and a wise power behind
the throne. Neat work too, from Edward Baker-Duly as both Captain Orton and Sir
Na-Young Jeon (Tuptim) gives a small role a heart-breaking arc
as her fierce strength is finally broken. Lover Lun Tha (Dean John-Wilson)
seizes his two big numbers and gives them everything they need. Against them,
Takao Osawa makes a fine minister Kralahome.
Also of note are the entire team
in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." A reminder of how revolutionary such
ballet show-within-a-show storytelling was, and how effective it still is.
Three hours fly by like a dream, an audience captivated and giving a unanimous
standing ovation, then remaining in place to hear to the final musical play-out.
The monkey didn't want to leave, and thinks many readers won't wish to either.
5 star, standing ovation.