Reviewed by Kim Bickerdike
Based on the classic 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein picture, this adaption of The King and I by Lincoln Center Theatre Productions hit the stage in 2015 and has been selling out in theatres across the country ever since.
I was excited for my mum and I to see how this film production would translate onto stage and from the moment the orchestra played their first note we were both truly captivated. The opening scene begins with a ship sailing onto the stage which is carrying the governess Anna Leonowens (played by Annalene Beechey) and her young son Louis who are arriving on the shores of Siam to teach English to the King’s children. The lighting, set and music all add to the grandeur and beauty of this opening scene. In fact, I think it is the best opening scene I have ever seen.
As the story progresses, we get to meet the King, his multiple wives and many children. My mum is a big Yul Brynner fan and was worried that no other actor would be able to play such a big and memorable role but her fears were soon put at ease as we encountered the King of Siam (played by Darren Lee). Darren completely encapsulated this much-loved character with his dramatic facial expressions and bucket loads of charisma perfectly. He is a strict King but does possess a softer side and is determined to prove to the Western World that he is not a barbarian
It was joyous watching the relationship between the progressive governess and the authoritarian King ebb and flow as they both tried to understand and accommodate each other’s views and cultures. The chemistry between these two characters was electric, there were many brilliantly funny and charming moments and with perfect comedy timing their performances are exceptional and unforgettable.
Throughout the first act we are treated to popular musical numbers such as ‘Getting to Know You’ ‘I Whistle A Happy Tune’ and ‘Shall I Tell You What I Think’ as well as many detailed and intricate scenes and set changes, my favourite being the one where the King proudly introduced his children to Anna. Each royal child entered the stage in an exquisite costume displaying their own quirky, unique and funny personalities. There were many audible aaahs from the audience and each child had the audience giggling along with their adorable performance and beautiful singing voices.
The second act focusses on the King hosting a dinner for British diplomat Sir Edward Ramsey (played by Philip Bulcock) to prove that he is a good King and not at all barbaric. After the dinner the guests are treated to a performance of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ which was narrated by Tuptim (played by Jessica Gomes-Ng) who was exceptional. The details and complexities of this performance were unbelievable, from the music, storytelling, costumes, set changes and choreography this scene is definitely one of the highlights of the show and received rapturous rounds of applause and cheers from the mesmerised audience.
We then get to witness the scene we have all been waiting for, the iconic dance scene performed by Anna and the King. It was nothing short of breath-taking. The way Anna managed to dance in her ginormous dress was just brilliant to watch. They both moved across the stage with elegance and ease and the moment the audience heard the legendary song ‘Shall We Dance’ we were all clapping along to the music and whooping and cheering once it came to an end. It really was a beautifully produced piece of theatre.
Overall, this production is a feast for all the senses, each actor performed to the highest standard, every song was note perfect and all set changes were beautiful and seamless. The orchestra were outstanding throughout, they switched between eastern and western styles of music which added a fantastic dimension and depth to this incredible show. The royal children were adorable, Lady Thlang (played by Cezarah Bonner) was radiant in her role as the King’s wife, Tuptim was endearing and the whole ensemble were exceptional.
The two stand out performances have to be Anna and the King. Annalene’s voice was absolutely beautiful, her powerful and breath-taking vocal performance is one of the best I have ever seen on the stage and Annalene Beechey played this role with grace, passion and splendour. Darren was equally good in his role as the King and the standing ovation they both received was utterly deserved
The run time of this show is just under 3 hours and every minute is thoroughly enjoyable, an absolute treat for all theatregoers.
I am giving this show 5 stars but if I could award it more, I unquestionably would.
Tickets cost from £15 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
The King and I is at the Liverpool Empire from 10-21 March 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool or call the box office on 0844 8713017.