Leeds Grand Theatre – until 9 November 2019
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
Leeds Grand Theatre is currently hosting The King and I which came direct from London’s West End and is currently on a national tour. With an international line up being led by Annalene Beechey and Jose Llana The King and I is certainly one of the most awaited musicals to be hosted at the theatre.
The King and I, a Lincoln Center Theater Production, is based on Margaret Landon’s Anna and The King of Siam and set to Richard Rodgers’ music and Oscar Hammerstein II’s book and lyrics. The musical was first premiered on Broadway in 1951 and in the West End two years later and subsequently filmed in 1956 starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.
The story is set to Anna Leonowens’ memoirs when she, a governess, was invited to Siam (Thailand) by the King during the 19th Century to teach English to his children and his wives and also to share with them an insight into the British culture. The King of Siam (Llana) wants Anna (Beechey) to be part of his ambitious plans to modernise Siam and also for the country to fight off any colonial invasions that were happening at the time.
Coming from contrasting cultures, the King and Anna initially don’t see eye to eye especially the equality and position of women. There is also reluctance from the King to honouring Anna’s contract and how she and her son, Louis (Alfie Turnbull) have to be bounded by the palace rules.
The Royal Household (Ensemble) and Anna receive eye opening experiences when they exchanged and shared cultures and traditions from the East and the West. Differences and misunderstandings are noted, clarified and put in perspective amid humourous moments. Eventually, despite the differences, mutual trust and acknowledgement emerge between the King and Anna and unbeknown at the time love begins to grow. There are some sad moments however their presence, influences and mutual understanding will surely live on in generations to come.
Set to an incredible musical score; musically led by Mr Malcolm Forbes-Peckham, with show stopping musical numbers such as the memorable Whistle a Happy Tune; catchy and entertaining but legendary Shall We Dance; and the ever wonderful and cute Getting to Know You when Anna meets the Royal Children and their mothers. In between the musical numbers one gets a glimpse of the country’s culture and traditions and also the political landscape at that time when the neighbouring countries were being colonised by different ones.
Michael Yeargan’s sets are breathtaking and eye catching which compliment Donald Holder’s creative lighting, Scott Lehrer’s soundscapes and Catherine Zuber’s colourful costumes. The production has a lavish stage presence throughout which sells the performances so well. Every scene is a highlight especially the The Small House of Uncle Thomas ballet with Tuptim (Paulina Yeung) narrating and the Royal Singers and Dancers (Ensemble) performing – choreographically pleasing with the story being colourfully told with dance and movement.
Bartlett Sher directs a production that one in the audience is engaged and transfixed from beginning to end. The King and I offers a lot as far as entertainment is concerned with plenty of cultural exchanges. The cast delivers a legendary musical which will live on in generations to come. It’s a must see musical and one understands why it was a sold out season in London’s West End and it is evident why this touring production is currently being well received and supported.