Following a Broadway run, a sell out record breaking season in London’s West End, the Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I has landed in Birmingham and it is gloriously lavish affair.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, the critically-acclaimed production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical is derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, fictionalised in Margaret Landon’s novel.
The musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna, the British schoolteacher whom the King brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children. This all takes place during an interesting time for Siam (or Thailand as it is currently known), where the kingdom is facing the ever-increasing presence of the modern Western powers of France, Britain and the United States of America on its traditionally imperialistic country.
Heading to Birmingham direct from its record-breaking season at The London Palladium, the musical is directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher and stars West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Jose Llana.
Jose Llana as the King of Siam plays a king who is strong-willed but dealing with a lot of upheaval, as Western powers close in on his country, threatening the imperialism under which he rules. These tempestuous times are echoed in his own Palace as Anna challenges the King’s views on women and fidelity in particular. But it is Llana’s ability to play up to the comedic moments of the play with such exaggerated facial expression which has the audience in stitches. Returning to Birmingham, West End’s Annalene Beechey perfectly embodies the headstrong yet idealistic schoolteacher Anna and wears the heaving Victorian gowns, floating around the stage like they’re little more than a feather.
The forbidden romantic sub-plot between Tuptim (played by Paulina Yeung) and her lover Lun Tha (played by Ethan Le Phong) adds another layer to this rich musical. The lovers catch moments together in the garden, decorated on stage with 22,000 flowers, each made by hand, which goes to show you the workmanship on display in the production.
Running at nearly three hours (including interval) it is perhaps a longer play than usual but it is utterly captivating and the time flies. As with any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the songs are well-known songs, and include the likes of; Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, and Shall We Dance. It is easy to see why this classic from the golden age of musicals is so well loved.
If this truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the very best in romantic musical theatre, then you simply must go – you won’t be disappointed.
As part of its world tour, The King and I is at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from 10th December until Saturday 4th January 2020. For tickets or more information, visit https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-king-and-i/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/
This was a press event. Photos and copyright belong to Johan Persson.