Wednesday, 4 July 2018

REVIEW: The King and I at the London Palladium

Opening in 2015, this revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical was a hit on Broadway. It won four Tony Awards; including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actress, Best Featured Actress and Best Costume Design. This production comes over to London where is plays at the historic London Palladium. 

Personally I am not a huge fan of Rogers and Hammerstein's work, I find a lot of their work to be dated and not relevant. But this show proved me wrong, it was as relevant as ever with the references to building walls around the country and trying to westernise the culture. It actually was quite shocking to see how our modern political struggles are represented through this period piece written over 60 years ago. 

Through Bartlett Sher and Christopher Gattelli’s visions, this production of The King and I is a true thing of beauty. Its tight and fresh but still has that classical feel to it that we a crave when seeing a Rogers and Hammerstein piece. 

The sets by Michael Yeargan are actually quite simple, of course there is a lavishness to them but in the bases of the design its simplistic and not busy which is just perfect for this piece and it is framed wonderfully by Catherine Zuber’s stunning costume design.

My only critique for the creative side of things would be to get the volume button up! In such a big house it was so quiet, I wanted to hear the stunning Orchestra beam through the gorgeous theatre, but instead it just played softly. 

Anna Leonowens is being played by Broadway legend, Kelli O’Hara. I am not one to be wrapped into any kind of hype, so I expected nothing from her in this show and I was immensely surprised and amazed. It’s almost as if this role was written for her, she performs this role with a subtlety that was enchanting to watch but filled the huge house of the London Palladium. From the moment she walked on stage she commanded the audience’s attention and we were with her the whole way through. A star performance that is definitely one of the theatrical highlights of the year. 

Ken Watanabe plays the King of Siam, he took a long time to warm into the role it seemed. He didn’t get into his stride until the second act which was a slight disappointment. I struggled to actually understand what he was saying and during his first number I didn’t catch anything he was said. That being said, his chemistry with Kelli O’Hara was electric. 

Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim was a triumph, she was almost like a modern Disney Princess with her beauty and voice, but the journey was heart breaking and capturing, all down to her performance of the role. 

Dean John Wilson gave a damp performance as Lun Tha, not offensive to the eye but easily forgotten. The same can be said for Jon Chew as Prince Chulalongkorn, not terribly strong in the show and actually felt slightly artificial.

At this press performance, the role of Lady Thiang was played by Naoko Mori who played it with grace but an intense inner struggle that was beautiful and tragic to watch. She held her ground and strength the whole way through, but we could see her breaking inside, finally crumpling at the end. It was a stunning journey to watch. 

The ensemble in this show are just fantastic, in the play in act 2 I was left stunned at the beauty of the dance piece they performed on stage. This is such a good example of an ensemble who are together and perform as one. A true credit to the show. 

This is a beautiful production and has already gone down in history, but it will be a long time before anyone forgets this gorgeous production. Although there are some flaws in casting, it still remains to be a classic and one to set the mould of musical theatre. A piece that is worth the ticket price. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, L 36 | Price of Ticket: £95 
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