Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 31, 2017

The King and I

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 4, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

        Photo by Matthew Murphy

This amazing new revival of “The King and I” is a stand-out production from every angle. For those who love the tried and true old time Rogers & Hammerstein shows, they will not be disappointed, even with some updated materials. The music, story, characters and original Jerome Robbins choreography is all there in its full and glorious form. To those who know the show well, they will notice some updated dialogue, especially with references to political conflicts in southeast Asia, as well as added dance sequences. These are interspersed between scenes and give more opportunity to the elegant and sophisticated Thai dancers who are featured primarily in the “Small House of Uncle Thomas”.

The cast is appropriately diverse and uniformly strong, although Manna Nichols has a bit of harshness vocally and is a more formidable and willful Tuptim than we usually see in this show (perhaps intentionally so). Laura Michaels Kelly is perfection in the part of Anna with her crystal clear bell-tone voice; every word and lyric beautifully articulated and every gesture and nuance stylistically appropriate and artful. Jose Llana brings warmth to this autocratic ruler, the King of Siam. His strong baritone voice is commanding and demanding with displays of a fearsome temper, but is also capable of being conciliatory and downright humorous. By the end of the show he has won over not only Anna, but his audience to this chauvinistic King.

The sets are simple and alluring making use of the high proscenium at the Bushnell with gauzy and flowery curtains creating the garden scenes and a metallic coppery gold curtain for the scenes in the palace. A giant Buddha brings home the significance of the religious as well as cultural divides between Anna (Christian, western ways) and the King (Buddhist, eastern ways). Gold pillars and a stark masonry wall create the illusion of towering palatial ceilings and the walled courtyard in which Anna feels confined.

This show is a feast for any audience, from the very young to the very old. The story still feels relevant in today’s world (with reference to a possible wall being built around Siam!), while the melodies are unforgettable; some of Roger’s & Hammerstein’s best, accompanied by a full orchestra and including the entire overture. Don’t miss it!!