Seen: December 17, 2016
Because I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, because I love classic musicals, and because I have season tickets to the Pantages, I spent a night in Siam with Anna and the King. Having never seen the movie, but knowing my share of the music, I was expecting a nice, enjoyable night at the theatre, and that is what I got.
The King and I is so very classic Rodgers and Hammerstein. So much so that it made me realize something that I, for some reason, had never noticed before: a lot of R+H shows are essentially the same story. A single, strong, leading lady (Anna, Nelly, Maria) is entering a new and unfamiliar territory where she is put up against a strong, stubborn leading man (the King, Emile, Captain Von Trap) where the two bicker and ultimately bond together and realize they complement each other in a unique way that has never happened before. Something happens with the man that the woman does not like and that causes a rift (The King lashes out, Emile has children of mixed race, and Captain Von Trap is going to marry Elsa). All the while there is an impending sense of doom lingering in the air (European imperialism, WWII, Nazi occupation) and a secondary love plot (Tuptim and Lun Tha, Lt. Cable and Liat, Liesl and Rolf) that does not end well. In some way/shape/form the leading couple reunite and make amends with usually a happy ending.
I realized this about twenty minutes into the first act and therefore, the show was predictable. Because I knew essentially how this show was going to end, the story itself started to lose my attention. I found myself paying closer attention to the set and the costumes and realized just how drop dead beautiful it all was. All of Anna’s costumes were just so gorgeous, so big and classic, Catherine Zuber did such a wonderful job. I so badly wish I could just wear just one of her costumes, not the purple ball gown my best friend Nicole likes, but the final dress, the maroon one. God, that was just so beautiful to me.
I was also able to focus more on the individual actors’ performances. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is just so pure and a true blessing. She flawlessly took on this role and disappeared into the character, which is a sign of a true great. In a video of her getting into character for Finding Neverland, she mentioned how much she enjoyed working with children and that definitely seemed to transfer to this show. She seemed to be having such a wonderful time with those talented little actors. Jose Llana was also just so great as the king. He had starred twice in the Lincoln Center production and it truly seems like he has taken this role and made it his own and feels really comfortable in it. That is always great to see.
When it comes to the show itself, aside from the fact that its the same as other R+H shows, I think there are some really shitty things about the facts about the story. This isn’t so much about the show, but just about history in general and imperialism and how just fucked up that is. The fact that the King is seen as being barbaric just because of his culture is just not a great thing that happened. The Europeans thinking that they are morally and societally superior than Eastern cultures is something that I just cannot wrap my mind around. Granted, this is coming from the retrospect of a Southern Californian white girl who is of 3/4 European descent. I just do not like the idea that there are cultures that assume they are better than others just because they do not understand it. In the case of Tuptim, the fact that she was given as a gift and forced to be one of the king’s wives, that is the most barbaric thing about the culture. In this story, the other wives don’t really have any complaints about being one of the many, though maybe that is because their voices just are not heard.
In all, The King and I tour was such a wonderful and beautiful production. The talent on the stage is what is the real draw for me, the voices and acting abilities and set and costume designs as opposed to the story and music. Every show has little things that make it great and had it not been for this particular cast and this direction and this lighting design and this costume design and these musicians all coming together for this production, I may not have had as great of a time as I did that night.