REVIEW: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S “THE KING AND I” — La Mirada Theatre & McCoy Rigby Entertainment
An Absolute Must-See!!
APRIL 24, 2023 — LA MIRADA
From the very first moments of La Mirada Theatre’s ravishing “The King and I,” it begins to feel like such a privilege just to be sitting in the audience.
It is hard to imagine a better Anna than the lovely Anastasia Barzee. And Ms. Barzee has found her match in Paul Nakauchi.
Mr. Nakauchi gets out from under Brynner’s long shadow by giving a performance that is gleefully playful, regally commanding and wholly his own, while Ms. Barzee’s dazzling brilliance lights up the stage in a wonderfully radiant performance.
The results are enjoyable to the highest possible degree: I doubt I’ll see a better production of “The King and I” in my lifetime.
Oscar Hammerstein’s second book, based on a novel by Margaret Landon, “Anna and the King of Siam,” is simple and direct in its form, charming in its subject matter. An English widow, Anna Leonowens, along with her small son, goes to Bangkok in the early 1860’s to give English lessons, together with a brief unscheduled course in foreign diplomacy, to the many children of the tyrannical King of Siam, who wishes to Westernize his country — but not too much.
The tone of the musical — its specific note of barbaric, oriental quaintness counterpoised with Victorian gentility — is effortlessly maintained. And the drama of the piece — the slow winning over of the King to Western ways — builds most satisfyingly. So satisfyingly indeed that we can even be persuaded to take death as a happy ending.
With a charmingly droll and poignant book that Mr. Hammerstein crystallized so smartly from Ms. Landon's semi-fictional biographical account, La Mirada Theatre’s magnificent and most picturesque production has richly preserved every bit of the humor and vibrant humanity of this tender story. The show is expertly marshaled by Glenn Casale (Broadway: “Peter Pan”), wielding all the ardor and abundance of Mr. Rodgers' striking musical score, which rings out as clearly as some of those Siamese bells.
The production has the great advantage of a resplendent cast, with vigorous choreography by Rumi Oyama (working from Jerome Robbins’ original watershed dances) and musical direction by the incredible Dennis Castellano (McCoy Rigby: The Sound of Music”).
Headlining the show, as aforementioned, is the inimitable duo of Anastasia Barzee (Broadway/West End: Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 opposite Kevin Kline) and Paul Nakauchi (Nat’l Tour: “The King and I,” with Yul Brynner), whose performance of the volatile King of Siam is so utterly virile, proud and commanding that he takes possession of the role completely.
As one of the most elegantly beautiful and exquisitely sung productions in years, Director Casale treats the 1951 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic with unimpeachable dramatic integrity and emotional authenticity equaled only by superb musicianship, pageantry and polished, errorless vocals.
The songs are beautiful, the characters are complex and its themes of democratization, cultural miscommunication and gender inequality are timely. Every one of the memorable numbers, from "I Whistle a Happy Tune" to the zealous and rollicking "Shall We Dance?" and even the few lesser known, such as Tuptim's "My Lord and Master" and Anna's acrimonious "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" are full of extravagant melody and décor.
One of the show’s greatest pleasures is “The March of Siamese Children,” in which a dozen or more of the king’s royal sons and daughters take solo turns greeting him and Anna. Another is the second act’s kaleidoscopic “The Small House of Uncle Thomas Ballet,” which has been created in a harmony of visual decadence and imagery that is forceful and rare.
The play, written by Tuptim (Paulina Yeung; “My Lord and Master”) after Anna lends her a copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” is a feast for the eyes, consummating the quaintness, the humor and the exquisite delicacy of this fine production.
Tuptim was presented to the King as a gift from a Prince of Burma, but she’s in love with the young scholar Lun Tha (Ethan Le Phong; “I Have Dreamed”). She is strong, independent and rebellious, defiantly presenting the balletic play as a pointed anti-slavery message to the King. Both actors bring emotion and exceptional singing skills to the show, as demonstrated by the haunting poignance in "We Kiss in a Shadow," the lovers' song.
Joan Almedilla (“Something Wonderful”) plays Lady Thiang to perfection as the King’s senior wife with an impressive vocal range and refined performance. And a wonderful Alan Ariano is the King’s Prime Minister and right-hand man (The Kralahome), the one person in the court that the King allows to give him counsel.
Oliver Stewart, as Anna’s son Louis, is a fantastic young talent who shines with charisma in every scene he’s in, sharing a scene and a song with Luke Naphat’s trim and regal heir to the throne, Prince Chulalongkorn (“A Puzzlement” Reprised). And although Kevin Symons’ role of Sir Edward Ramsey was abbreviated, his character effectually represents the concerned British dignitaries, who is ultimately impressed by Siam’s customs.
The King, of course, is the heart of this story, and Mr. Nakauchi makes him vigorous and big. He dominates — but also charms. He is like a Ghengis Khan in an Armani suit. But Ms. Barzee matches him boldly. Her beauty, her spirit and her English style comes as close to approximating those of the late Deborah Kerr as could be, while adding a thrilling “Julie Andrews” lyricism to her songs. The point of the story, as we all surmise, is that you should never underestimate a woman's power. Ms. Barzee makes that fact piercingly trenchant.
The result is a monumental piece of work, and a beautiful excursion, done with impeccable taste by two artists brought to life with an outstanding cast, spectacular set designs, a warm, romantic score, idiomatic lyrics and exquisite dancing. This show is not to be missed.
LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, AND MCCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT, PRESENTS — RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S THE KING AND I; Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Based on “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon; Directed by Glenn Casale; Conductor/Musical Direction by Dennis Castellano; Choreography by Rumi Oyama; Scenic/Costume Design by NETworks Rentals (based on Original Set Design by Michael Yeargan & Original Costume Design by Catherine Zuber); Lighting Design by Steven Young; Sound Design by Cricket S. Myers; Costume Coordinator is Adam Ramirez; Co-Hair/Wig/Make-up Design by Kaitlin Yagen and Madison Medrano; Properties Supervisor is Kevin Williams; Thai Cultural Consultant and Dialect Coach is Riw Rakkulchon; Casting Director Julia Flores; Production Stage Manager Donna R. Parsons. Publicist: David Elzer/DEMAND PR.
WITH: Alan Ariano as “The Kralahome,” Eric Badiqué as “Phra Alack,” Richard Bulda as “The Interpreter,” Cristyn Dang as “Simon of Legree,” Arielle Dettmer as “Angel George,” Emma Gong-Koiso as “Princess Ying Yaowalak,” Luke Naphat as “Prince Chulalongkorn,” Ethan Le Phong as “Lun Tha,” Michael Rothhaar as “Captain Orton,” Callula Sawyer as “Topsy,” Oliver Stewart as “Louis Leonowens,” Angel Srittmater as “Little Eva,” Kevin Symons as “Sir Edward Ramsey,” Chad Takeda as “Uncle Thomas,” Michiko Takemasa as “Eliza,” and Paulina Yeung as “Tuptim.”
The Ensemble: Johnisa Breault, Joven Calloway, Harry Cho, Andrea Dobbins, Lauren Han, Eleen Hsu-Wentlandt, Linda Igarashi, Jonathan Kim, Kevin Kulp, Francesca Ling, Saki Masuda, Jee Teo, Bernice Wang, and Ryan Wong.
The Royal Children: Isabella Abiera, Sierra Tolentino Chavez, Hailey Choi, Iris Choi, Aubrey Chun, Julian Paz Fedorov, Grace Jenkins, Layla Rose Lovin, Adrienne Amanda Morrow, Analeigh Charlize Singhi, Oliver Stellan, Natalie Yokota, and Aiaru Zhumakhmet.
THE KING AND will run through Sunday, May 14, 2023 at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm & 8 pm and Sundays at 1:30 pm & 6:30 pm. Tickets: $19 - $95. For further information, contact www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits by Jason Niedle