The King & I

Posted on: 29 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

One of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most popular musicals – The King & I is back in town in a production in the round directed by Jeremy Sams at the Royal Albert Hall.

As you are no doubt aware this is the story of Anna Leonowens, the British governess, who comes to the court of Siam in the 1860’s to give lessons in English and European studies to the 67 children that the king has sired. 

Once within the splendour of the royal palace, each gives the other a lesson in humility.  She finds him imperious, he finds her imperialist.  He treats women as his chattels whilst she tries to impose her Victorian values on the intransigent monarch.  Eventually Anna and the king grow to understand each other and learn to respect each other’s cultures.

This is a show in which spectacle and intimacy are skilfully intertwined, but is short on humour.  It is also a musical which appears rather dated, especially in the tedious Chinese Opera ballet based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, whilst the subsidiary love interest never takes off.

Nevertheless this is a handsomely mounted show with bright, colourful costumes, a large cast including some delightful children, opulent sets – including a mini lake complete with boat – and fireworks.  Yet despite the size of the production this is a show which exudes a charm of its own and in the end proves quite moving.

But its two greatest assets are a marvellous Rodgers & Hammerstein score which includes such classics as Shall We Dance?, I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers and the unforgettable Getting to Know You, and a splendid performance by Maria Friedman, who brings a warmth and tender heart to the role of Anna and sings superbly.   Lending strong support is Daniel Dae Kim who combines authority and even cruelty with a touching vulnerability as the autocratic king, while Jee Hyun Lim is a commanding presence as Lady Thiang, his main wife.

The show’s musical credentials receive a further boost with excellent playing from the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

I’m sure the many fans of this enduring musical will not be disappointed!

By Laurence Green

Where: Royal Albert Hall

Box Office: 020 7838 3100

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