There is certainly more to hear than see in ‘The King and I.’ What this production lacks in set design and wardrobe, is made up for with dazzling vocals and brilliant performances.
Any show preceded by the names Rodgers & Hammerstein are considered classics. The duo did for musical theater what Ben & Jerry did for ice cream. Every Rodgers & Hammerstein production includes a splendid a score, an engaging storyline and timeless themes etc. etc. etc. ‘The King and I’ fits all of that criteria, which makes seeing it at the Schuster Center between February 12-17 a must.
Despite it being a classic, I’d never seen any version of ‘The King and I’ before. All I knew is that Yul Brenner’s in the movie and it gets talked about more than Sandra Bullock’s role in Bird Box. Speaking of, this show would still be enjoyable if blindfolded, due to all the amazing voices. There is certainly more to hear than see in ‘The King and I.’ What this production lacks in set design and wardrobe, is made up for with dazzling vocals and brilliant performances.
The backdrop in the opening scene is impressive when Anna arrives in Siam, but from then on the staging is relatively simple. There’s nothing simple though about the royally good performance by Pedro Ka ‘Awaloa as the King. From authoritative to charming, confident to desperate and every emotion in between Ka ‘Awaloa covers them all. Ka ‘Awaloa reigns supreme when it comes to vocals as he’d be crowned the winner of any singing competition. If Ka ‘Awaloa was ever really King and sung his State of the Union Address both sides would stand in celebration. To Ka ‘Awaloa’s credit, he makes the King likeable despite being a ruler with a wandering eye, believed to be a barbarian, and having plans to build a wall etc. etc. etc.
Hired as a tutor for the Kings multitude of children is Anna (Angela Baumgardner). Baumgardner is delightful as Anna. Her smile is as radiant as her voice, which shines especially bright for ‘Getting to Know You.’ Anna is not afraid to go toe to toe with the King, but struggles to keep her head lower than his, which provides some humorous scenes. Though not hired to teach him anything, the King learns some valuable lessons from Anna himself.
To have multiple wives seems unfathomable, but if they are all like Lady Thiang (DeAnna Choi) it might not be so bad. On her first national tour, Choi graces the stage like a seasoned veteran. She exudes more royalty than Queen Latifah and has a superior voice too. If Choi’s rendition of ‘Something Wonderful’ could be visualized it would be more beautiful than all of the royal weddings combined. I found Choi to be mesmerizing, confident, inspiring etc. etc. etc.
While her body is small in stature, Paulina Yeung’s voice is humongous in range. Yeung plays the part of Tuptim and could have her own television series, ‘My 600 pound Voice.’ I’d watch it and buy the soundtrack. It’s also Yeung’s first national tour and certainly won’t be her last. Yeung’s singing of ‘My Lord and Master’ highlights her vocal range and is an operatic masterpiece.
A dramatic highpoint comes when the King lashes out at Tuptim, which also leads to a fiery exchange with Anna. That scene alone is enough explanation of why ‘The King and I’ is such a classic. It almost makes up for the lengthy ballet portion of a show within a show, when the children perform ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas.’ I think just having them do ‘So Long, Farwell’ would have been much more impressive.
There is much to enjoy about ‘The King and I,’ including the beautiful voices, a diverse cast, and a riveting story etc. etc. etc. ‘The King and I’ continues at the Schuster Center through February 17.