The Broadway in Atlanta series is presenting the 2015 Lincoln Center Theater Production’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” at the Fox Theatre, running through Oct. 1.
This gorgeous revival will be remembered by Broadway theatre fans as the show that finally won musical superstar Kelli O’Hara a Best Actress Tony Award; it was her fifth nomination.
The show also marks the fourth collaboration between Ms. O’Hara and director Barlett Sher, which includes the magnificent 2008 revival of “South Pacific.” Ms. O’Hara does not appear in the current national tour.
“The King and I” is one of the crown jewels of the R&H oeuvre, a body of work which is legendary: “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music” come to mind. These shows continue to work because their creators knew that human nature, with our triumphs and our foibles, really doesn’t change that much. The often soaring music (Mr. Rodgers) and witty, insightful book and lyrics (Mr. Hammerstein II) do not hurt.
“The King and I” is based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” by Margaret Landon; the book was derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who actually became governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860’s.
The original show opened on Broadway in 1951; the film version came in 1956. Both made Russian-American actor Yul Brynner an international star. He was suggested to the creators by Broadway legend Mary Martin, with whom he had co-starred in the 1946 musical “Lute Song.” The British stage actress Gertrude Lawrence was original Anna; Deborah Kerr did the film honors.
To see the current show is to enter a time capsule of slow-moving elegance; our digital, hyper cyber world may experience culture shock. But if you relax and take some deep breaths, you may find yourself smiling, if not blissed out. Some might call the show old-fashioned; but the magical songs, potent with timeless beauty, accompanied by a lovely orchestra and miked to perfection for the vast Fox (remember when sound there used to be disturbingly unpredictable?) will win you over.
And such songs they are: “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed,” sung by the doomed young lovers Tuptim (Q Lim on opening night; usually Manna Nichols) and Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), always make me mist up a bit (I can be a sucker for romance).
Laura Michelle Kelly’s (Anna) crystalline voice shimmers through the vast Fox like a beacon of hope and beauty (“I Whistle a Happy Tune” (really about overcoming fear), “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You.”) The King is played by Jose Llana; he must be fierce, mercurial, a bit dangerous, surprisingly sensitive, and funny; somehow Mr. Llana pulls it off; a lovely performance.
“The King and I” has been called “one of the greatest non-love love stories ever written,” and it is; Anna and the King are never conventionally romantic. But when he touches her waist to begin the famous “Shall We Dance?” sequence, a moment savvy audiences wait for, there must be some palpable chemistry; for some reason that didn’t quite happen opening night. Audience sometimes burst into applause at the beginning of the number; perhaps they will later in the run.
I think Lady Thiang’s (Joan Almedilla) “Something Wonderful” may be the highlight of the evening; if you listen closely to the words, the whole theme of the show is there. It’s sublime. So are Catherine Zuber’s glorious costumes: almost worth the price of admission.
So slow down, head to the Fox, and for two hours and 45 minutes let this large cast of professionals entertain you. The opening night audience seemed enthralled.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.