This month, the La Mirada Theater of Performing Arts brings takes you back in time to the 1860’s and to the eastern Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand). At the time, the United States was in the midst of a civil war. Meanwhile, King Mongkut of Siam was working to modernize his country.
This brings us to the beginning of the story of Anna Leonownens and the King of Siam, brought to you through “The King and I”, a musical by Rogers and Hammerstein. The show features the theater’s largest cast ever, with a whopping 44 actors taking the stage to tell the story of a culture clash between East and West.
Set in the 1860s, “The King and I” is based on the alleged “true story” of Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher from Wales, who travels to Siam to teach the King’s many children. Her effect on the kingdom and the kingdom’s effect on her is the basis of this classic musical.
CAST & PERFORMANCE
The show was directed by Glenn Casale and although I had hoped there would be a fresh perspective to the material, I was still pleased to see a performance that stayed true to the spirit of the original Rogers and Hammerstein script. The blocking and choreography utilized every inch of the stage well, filling the stage with action and movement. Casale also brought out nuanced performances in each actor adding layers of complexity to the story.
Anatasia Barzee’s Anna and Paul Nakauchi as King Mongut seemed to lack chemistry together, however, each embodied their characters well separately. Nakauchi brought a commanding presence to the role and Barzee’s clear and expressive singing voice conveyed the character’s wit, willfulness, and empathy. The actors playing the King’s many children are also charming and engaging, adding an extra layer of warmth to the musical.
Rumi Oyama, who oversaw the choreography, helped to ensure the performers captured the essence of traditional Thai dance as well as Western dance styles to emphasize the differences in culture and tradition.
MUSIC & LYRICS
The music in "The King and I" is a classic example of the work of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. The score is a seamless blend of Western and Eastern musical styles, with lush orchestrations and memorable melodies that capture the sensibilities of the east and west.
One of the most famous songs from the show is "Getting to Know You", a charming and catchy tune that perfectly captures the budding friendship between Anna and the King's children. The song is both joyful and touching, with lyrics that are both clever and heartfelt.
Another standout number is "Shall We Dance?", a romantic and playful duet between Anna and the King. The song features a sweeping waltz melody and lyrics that express the characters' growing affection for each other, while also highlighting their cultural differences.
Other notable songs from the show include "Hello, Young Lovers", a tender ballad about the complexities of love, and "I Whistle a Happy Tune", a jaunty tune that reflects Anna's determination to remain brave in the face of uncertainty.
Overall, the music in "The King and I" captures the show's themes of cultural understanding, personal growth, and romance.
The musical direction by Dennis Castellano was flawless and it was a delight to hear the songs performed live.
SET DESIGN AND COSTUME
The set design and lighting design are relatively minimal, yet it feels appropriate for the show. It gives the essence of being in the Siamese palace, yet allows the performers, costumes, and choreography to be the center of attention. If it was any more ornate the cast would have become lost in the set.
The costumes invoked the European and Siamese fashion of the 19th century to further emphasize the differences in culture and give an air of opulence to each scene.
Watching a golden age musical through modern eyes does have its challenges. Setting aside how the show perpetuates Orientalist stereotypes in need of Western intervention and the elements of the “white savior”, I still enjoyed the show. It has very similar elements to the 1956 film of the same name starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr so, if you enjoyed that movie, you’ll enjoy this too.
The sheer size of the cast was impressive, and each actor performed their parts well. The highlight for me were the dance performances!
"The King and I" is a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that premiered on Broadway in 1951. The musical was adapted from the semi-fictionalized novel "Anna and the King of Siam" by Margaret Landon, which is based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens including “The English Governess and the Siamese Court.”
The production was a critical and commercial success, winning multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for years on Broadway. It was later adapted into the forementioned popular film in 1956 and another in 1999 starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.
To say that “The King and I” is based on a true story is a stretch. The claim should be taken with a grain of salt. Historians later determined that Leonowens had falsified details of her early life (including the claim that she was born in Wales in 1834 to an army captain and his wife) and exaggerated her role and influence in the royal court. Landon has stated that some of the events in her book were fictionalized, and I have no doubt that Roger’s and Hammerstein added their own spin to the story.
The story is banned in Thailand due to its portrayal of the Thai monarchy. The Thai government has a strict lese-majeste law, which makes it illegal to insult, defame, or threaten the monarchy. The musical has been controversial in Thailand since its release, as it depicts the King of Siam as an authoritarian ruler. In the play, Anna even goes as far as to accuse the king of misogyny and being a libertine. As a result, "The King and I" has never been performed in Thailand, and it is illegal to import or distribute the musical within the country. While the story of Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut is well-known in Thailand, it is often portrayed in a different light, with the King depicted as a benevolent ruler who modernized Siam and resisted colonialism.
LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
14900 La Mirada Blvd.
La Mirada, CA 90638
April 22 - May 14 at 6:30 pm
There is no performance on Sunday, April 23 at 6:30 pm.
There will be an Open-Captioned performance on Saturday, May 6 at 2 pm.
Talkbacks with the cast and creative team will be on Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm and Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 pm.
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 2:00 pm & 8 pm
Sundays at 1:30 pm & 6:30 pm
Tickets range from $19 - $95 (Prices subject to change).
Student tickets: $14
Children under 3 will not be admitted into the theatre. Group and military discounts are available.
Parking is free.
For information and reservations, call 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or visit here.