The King And I
Cast: Annalene Beechey, Jose Llana, Darren Lee, Cezarah Bonner, Aaron Teoh, Ethan Le Phong & Jessica Gomes-ng
Review Date: March 11 2020
Performances: March 10-21 2020; 7.30pm & 2.30pm Matinees
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Duration: 175 Minutes incl. Interval
Age Rating: 8+
One of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s most-loved musicals, this Lincoln Center Theater critically acclaimed version of The King And I tells the story of an English widow named Anna Leonowens, a British school teacher who is employed as a school teacher for the royal children and wives of The King Of Siam. A family favourite, as a child, my mother would often break out into the odd The King And I number. I loved the film, and I was really looking forward to seeing the musical on stage at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre; I was definitely not disappointed.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, the show was breathtaking from start to finish. Michael Yeargan‘s set design was so imaginative – from the very opening, when we see Anna’s ship sail onto the stage buoyed by billows of smoke.
Anna and her young son have been promised their own house attached to the Palace, but the King does not deliver on his promise and initially insists that she must live in the Palace. As their unconventional and tempestuous relationship develops, the King begins to rely on Anna for guidance, a highly unusual practice but we see their affection for each other grow.
Annalene Beechey, playing the part of Anna, is so talented. Her clipped English speaking voice was reminiscent of the iconic Deborah Kerr, and Annalene has an incredibly beautiful singing voice. From her first musical number – I Whistle A Happy Tune – it seemed as though she were born to play Anna; she was just wonderful. Her portrayal of the strong-willed yet loving and caring schoolteacher continued with further songs such as Getting To Know You; Hello Young Lovers and Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You, which were all spellbinding.
Darren Lee played a great King: spoilt, stubborn, headstrong and used to getting his own way, yet with underlying humour and a vulnerability that provided lots of smiles and laughter throughout the show. His stage presence mirrored that of the great Yul Bryner, and Jose remained in character with every small movement or nuance throughout the show.
The show’s entire cast were superb with very talented (and cute) children cast as the King’s offspring. There was such attention to detail and excellent choreography, and I must mention Catherine Zubar’s beautiful costumes, from Anna’s floaty gowns to the gold and vibrantly coloured outfits of the Siamese ballet dancers; they were a feast for the eyes.
I must also mention the excellent performance by Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, the King’s first wife and mother of Prince Chulalongkorn (Aaron Teoh). There was a stand-out moment when she performed the poignant Something Wonderful, which showcased her talent and vocal ability; you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Again, she conveyed such regality and stage presence whenever in the spotlight. The Liverpool audience were very appreciative of her performance and afforded her the appropriate applause.
Secret lovers Lun Tha (Ethan Le Phong) and Tuptim (Jessica Gomes-ng) drew us into their clandestine meetings through songs such as We Kiss In The Shadow and I Have Dreamed. Jessica Gomes-ng had crystal clear vocals, which were just heart-rending, and the set and subdued lighting adding to the atmosphere.
She also narrated the play The Small House Of Uncle Thomas (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) that was performed to impress the European visitors. This section of the second act was mesmerising with brilliant voices, outstanding choreography by Christopher Gattelli, and the traditional Siamese ballet interpretation, which was exquisite. Again, the costumes, hair and make-up were fabulous.
This celebration of The King And I demonstrated musical brilliance (did I mention the orchestra?), excellent acting, fantastic choreography, beautiful wardrobe and sets, and magnificent casting. It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the glorious production of a legendary film, and I am so pleased I got to see it. Towards the end of the show, the scene where Anna and The King dance around the stage to Shall We Dance? was so uplifting. Her dress floated and shone as she danced the polka and the audience clapped along. Don’t miss it!
Target Audience: Ages 10+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Overall Rating: 10/10 – Perfect
The King And I Tickets
The King And I runs at the Empire Theatre until Saturday March 21 2020. To buy tickets, click here or call 0844 871 3017.
For more information about The King And I, click here.