Reviewed by Emily Schofield
4th July 2018
Reviewer rating: ★★★★★
The King and I will leave you fulfilled and comforted as it transports you to Siam.
As a fan of the classic 1956 film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, I thought that I knew what to expect from this latest London production. But however high my expectations, this show has exceeded that tenfold and still managed to throw in a few extra surprises.
The story revolves around Anna, a welsh schoolteacher who comes to Siam to be a teacher for the King’s children. The show touches on the main issues of two completely different cultures meeting and expresses the desire for understanding between people, as Anna and the King learn to tolerate their differences.
Reviving her Tony Award winning role, Kelli O’Hara is the perfect Anna, with an incredible performance and stunning vocals. Despite the pressure of performing a role that’s so iconic, O’Hara made it look effortless, bringing her own take on the beloved character with ease.
She commanded the stage and led the rest of the cast with complete confidence and grace. Combined with her excellent chemistry with Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam, the duo did a fantastic job of showing the progression of their relationship and brought real honesty to their performances. The iconic “Shall We Dance” moment, is a real showstopper and one that the pair do with such ease and perfection. It’s infectious to watch them bounce off each others energy and the West End is lucky to have them.
The music, as expected, was spectacular. As a fan of the original film, I was already in love with the infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein score itself. However the vocals from the entire cast were so remarkable, that the music felt fresh and new, despite being classic songs that I’ve known for years. Especially the voice of Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim, which was beautifully powerful and gave me a new love for the character.
The entire cast gave their absolute all with their performances and delivered a wonderful experience combined. The energy was relentless and was such a pleasure to watch as an audience member.
One moment which really stood out to me was The Small House of Uncle Thomas, which was the ballet section of the second act. It was beautifully executed, with elaborate costumes (Catherine Zuber) and incredible choreography (Greg Zane/Emma Woods) which brought a tear to my eye! It was so refreshing and created a completely different dynamic which really helped to make this show as wonderful as it is.
The set design (Michael Yeargan) is one of the most visually impressive parts of this production. The detailed walls of the palace instantly transformed the theatre into the Palace of Siam, and the beautiful scenery for Lun Tha and Tuptim’s meeting in the garden was breathtaking and incredibly romantic. The atmosphere each change of set created fitted perfectly for each scene and really helped to bring the performances to life, contextually.
However, the children are what really make this show what it is. Their energy and joy throughout was infectious and made the show feel so much more truthful and heartfelt. They stole my heart from the beginning and lifted the spirits of the entire audience.
My only criticism would be that this show could potentially be difficult to experience depending on where you are sat. I think if you were sitting at the back of the theatre with a more restricted view, it would be difficult to capture the emotion and power that makes this production so special. For me, it’s worth experiencing up close in order to fully be impacted by the show. I think from a distance, it would be difficult for the show to affect you as personally as it impacted me.
With that being said, The King and I is a true spectacle. With polished performances from the entire cast and a story that will leave you in tears. It’s a real treat and definitely worth a watch whilst it’s here in the West End!
You can catch The King and I at the London Palladium until September 29th. http://thelondonpalladium.co.uk/event/the-king-and-i/