Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2016’

‘King and I’ revival underscores cultural differences

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★☆☆

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana star in “The King and I” at the SHN Orpheum. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana star in “The King and I” at the SHN Orpheum. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

It appears that my hopes for the revival of “The King and I” were unreasonable.

I’d dreamed of an escape — 2 hours and 50 minutes during which I could stop fretting about Donald Trump.

Alas, though the show dates to a vastly more innocent time, 1951, when the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical first opened on Broadway, and its storyline time-machines back to Bangkok some 90 years before that, when Thailand was still Siam, it couldn’t dissipate my fears.

The reverberations were particularly evident at the SHN Orpheum Theatre when the king said maybe someday he’d build a wall around his county.

Snickers erupted in the opening night crowd.

White-haired but blue.

The show mainly focuses on cultural differences — including polygamy and slavery — that disconnected the autocratic king and the stubborn British schoolmarm he’d hired in an attempt to modernize/westernize his country.

She, naturally, was fighting for feminism and equality.

And he was fighting to stop being barbaric.

Plot-advancing songs included “Something Wonderful” (which again made me teary-eyed); “Shall We Dance,” a rare theatrical polka; sentimental ditties like “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “Hello, Young Lovers” and upbeat melodies like “I Whistle a Happy Tune” and “Getting to Know You.”

That last one, by the way, had been brought back to life by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II after they’d dumped it from “South Pacific,” a show that also features socially conscious notions — and tunes such as “You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” which refers to hate, a recurrent theme in this election year.

Comedy was sprinkled throughout “The King and I.”

For which I was grateful.

Because once or twice I felt like I was watching a colorized classic movie whose text was incredibly naïve and sentimental given today’s edgy offerings.

Especially amusing — and cute — was “The March of the Siamese Children.”

Laura Michelle Kelly, a veteran of both Broadway and London’s West End, was outstanding as Anna — both in her resounding vocals and her acting (appropriately priggish).

And Jose Llana, also a Great White Way vet, did quite well as the king (in spite of playing an iconic part no one will ever disassociate from Yul Brynner).

Exceptional, too, were Manna Nichols as Tuptim (a human gift from the king of Burma), whose voice stunned me with it power, and Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang, the king’s principal wife (whose icy looks were scary).

Costumes by Catherine Zuber were gorgeous, and the sets effective (except for a cheesy, flat boat in the first scene).

The musical, a multiple Tony winner in both its original and resuscitated productions, seemed well-paced (except when “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” compelled me to check my watch).

The director overlooked the lone anachronism in the show: Two little kids doing a high-five in “Getting to Know You.”

But that error somehow left me wanting to give one to the producers and each member of the large, skilled cast.

“The King and I” runs at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco, through Dec. 11. Night performances, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets: $55 to $275 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or shnsf.com. 

Contact Woody Weingarten at at voodee@sbcglobal.net or www.vitalitypress.com.