Another precious gem from the founders of the musical hymn sheet, Rogers and Hammerstein. The King and I has been resurrected and on a whimsical UK tour, following a critically acclaimed sold-out season at The London Palladium and now performing at The Alexandra, Birmingham
Created from the bestselling novel back in 1943, Anna and the King of Siam (now Thailand) was introduced to the stage as a musical in 1951, before being adapted for the big screen into the wondrous film we still love to this day.
Reimagined by the matriarch of revivals, Bartlett Sher, this take on one of the biggest musicals to come out of the Golden Age is utterly incredible. Let’s face it, the film no longer stands as appropriate, illustrating sexism, cultural appropriation and with depictions of colonialism. However, Sher does his absolute best to segway from this without stepping away from the tenets of the tale – muted aggressions from the king and a nuanced senses of mutual respect are depicted.
Muted yet impactful sets make way for the phenomenal wardrobe of the cast, with Anna’s gargantuan hooped skirts bringing a whole new meaning to Victorian camp.
There was an air of disappointment at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre when it was announced that Helen George was ‘indisposed’ and would not be performing. However, when Maria Coyne graced the stage and whistled a happy tune, confidence was re-instated. The strong-minded British widow travels to Siam taking on a new teaching role, educating the many children and many wives of the King, definitely one for the CV!
Coyne embodied the character perfectly, remaining contained and graceful throughout yet giving necessary emotion to parts, bringing depth to the role. Her vocals were astounding, totally effortless and her take on Hello Young Lovers was a beautiful satire that had the house in awe.
Broadway’s Darren Lee takes on the role of entitled and morally corrupt King Mongkut. He embodies the resilience and hardiness of the character but gave insight to a vulnerability that’s most compelling and keeps the audience engrossed.
Tense disagreements and cultural disputes take you on the evolution of the pair’s relationship. Coyne and Lee bring so much chemistry to the stage, with a few giggles from the camaraderie that they share. The audience was waiting in anticipation for the show’s anchoring spectacle, Shall we Dance – which sees Anna teaching the king how to dance in a modest affair until the orchestra explode into a frenzy and the duo polka through the palace in the most gorgeous display of footwork.
The shows ‘play within a play’, Tuptim’s adaption of Siamese tale, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a work of art and a nice subsidiary – if not a little too long.
Lady Thiang, played by Cezarah Bonner, gave an impeccable performance and Something Wonderful bought the audience into a roaring applause. Equally, Dean John-Wilson and Amelia Kinu Muss delivered a stunning portrayal of the doomed love affair between Tuptim and Lun Tha.
The Kings children are completely adorable and muster all the delight, charm and innocence of a baby’s laughter.