THE KING AND I
By Gary Murray
Starring Rachel York, Alan Ariano and Devin Ilaw
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Glenn Casale
What can be said about The King and I that has not been said 100’s of times before? It is an American classic of theater and a film that has delighted generations. It is the quintessential musical experience. A version is playing at Lincoln Center as this is being written, probably on the way to winning the best revival at next year’s Tony Awards. With exceptional songs and universal appeal, this is one of the big hitters in the Classic American Songbook. A new version of the play takes the stage at the Music Hall in Fair Park as part of the Dallas Summer Musical Series.
The show portal is a scene of eastern sunset in the late 19th century. As the orchestra plays an abbreviated version of the Overture, the logo of The King and I is emblazoned into the sun. It is a simple but effective welcome to the audience.
The story is of Anna (Rachel York), a widowed woman with a young son. She has taken the job of teaching the children of the King of Siam. Rachel sings “I Whistle a Happy Tune” with her son Louis (Aidan Winn). Both have fine voices and a nice chemistry.
We soon find that the King (Alan Ariano) wants Anna to live in the palace, something a single woman would never do at that time. She keeps insisting on having her own house. She also finds that living in the palace is a bit of a challenge.
The first true breakout moment happens when Tuptin sings “My Lord and Master”. The actress Yoonjeong Seong takes on the role and delivers to the back row. It is a masterful blending of pathos and precision that brings passion to the proceedings.
The first act carries the big hits from the show. We get “Getting to Know You”, “Hello, Young Lovers” and “A Puzzlement” on the way to a dinner where East meets West. It also builds the tensions of Act II.
The Second Act is where the major beats of the plot take place. “I Have Dreamed” is sung by Lun Tha and Tuptin. Devin Ilaw and Yoonjeong Seong take the romantic ballad and make it their own. It is the biggest highlight of the entire play and the moment worth admission. It is magic on the hard woods.
The second act has two major elements. First is the performance of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”. This is a re-imagined version of the ballet with wonderful choreography. Choreographer Bob Richard combines different elements of Bali style dancing to the American ‘current event’ story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is a bit of simple and entertaining magic.
The second element of Act II is the big moment of the play. “Shall We Dance?” has always been the show-stopper moment of the entire work and it does not fail here. The two move around the stage, enjoying the simple moment of a single dance. It is heartwarming and truly the highlight of the performance.
This limited run play is directed by Glenn Casale. He was also the man who helmed the production of The Little Mermaid last year. This is the kind of play where casting becomes the more important element. Casale is perfect in finding the right person for the role. Rachel York is charming and Alan Ariano has perfect comedic timing. They work flawlessly as a couple of unrequited loves.
It is in the secondary cast where Casale shines. He has found great performers for the smallest roles and there is not a bad voice in the entire cast. Lastly, the kids are all just super sweet.
The sets are massive and the colors just jump off the stage. The suggestion of the gigantic palace with different props is a testament to the technicians who worked so diligently to make this production happen in such a short time. Also, the costumes are breathtaking in both their complexity and shimmer. The gowns pop under the lights and it becomes a visual feast.
The King and I is an enjoyable night at the theater. It has perfect music and great performances. It is a family musical experience that can be enjoyed by any patron. There are some future major stars in this cast, just waiting for that moment to break-out.