Monday, September 12, 2011
The King and I
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” directed by Steve Isaacson and choreographed by Michael Miilar, was the show that closed out Davis Musical Theatre Company’s run at the Varsity Theatre in 2005. A beautiful new production, directed and choreographed by Jan Isaacson, is opening DMTC’s 27th season.
Right off the bat, I give failing marks to the audience, most of whom rudely talked among themselves throughout the overture. Even though the lights in the theater were not turned down until the end, the orchestra, which was quite good, deserves better than this!
The sets, by Steve Isaacson, are based on the design by Juan Ramos (who also played the King in that 2005 production). They are gorgeous, particularly the King’s bedroom, which is spectacular. The combination of the warm colors in the set and the warm lighting design (by Isaacson and Dannette Vassar) makes for a very inviting setting on which to place the story.
In previous productions of this musical — a subtext to the story of Anna Leonowens, the widow who comes to Siam with her young son to become teacher to the children of Siam’s beloved King Mongkut — there’s a sense of sexual tension, as the relationship between Anna and the King develops. This is particularly evident in the jealousy the king shows toward Anna’s friendship with British Envoy Sir Edward Ramsey (Gabriel Jacobo) and the dance between the King and Anna following the banquet held in Ramsey’s honor.
The decision to cast an older actress as Anna removes that sexual tension and leaves the way open to explore the professional relationship between the protagonists. Chris Cay Stewart has a lovely voice and beautifully portrays the relationship between herself and the King’s court (especially the children), and the on-again, off-again friendship with the King. Her age also makes for a more poignant and beautiful reminiscence as she sings “Hello, Young Lovers,” remembering her marriage to her husband, Tom.
Mark Suarze is a strong, vibrant King, straddling the fence between long-held cultural beliefs and his desire to move Siam into the modern age. He is powerful in his emotional numbers, particularly “A Puzzlement,” where he questions what he knows, what he should know and what he knows nothing about, but should.
Anna’s son, Louis, is played by William Chan, a talented young actor who could give lessons to many in the cast about projection, as his dialog was crystal-clear at all times. Sadly, that could not be said of Larry Lipman, playing the captain of the ship that brought the Leonowens to Siam. I never heard a word he said, and he also seemed to stumble over his lines as well.
Lenore Sebastian plays Lady Tiang, the King’s First Wife and the mother to Prince Chulalongkorn (Horace Gonzales), who is heir to his father’s throne. Sebastian is a wise and loving wife and that voice of hers is as warm and delicious as melted butter.
The lovers Tuptim (Lydia Smith), gift of the King of Burma to the King of Siam, and her escort Lun Tha (Kevin Foster), were very sweet. Smith has a lovely voice in her lower register, but loses it somewhat in her higher notes. Foster, however, has an amazing voice and showed it at its best.
Adam Sartain is an imposing Kralahome, the principal guard of the King, wary of anything that might upset either his boss or the long-held traditions of the court.
Tuptim’s theatrical performance of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” was a real highlight of the evening and was danced beautifully by Shannon Mo, Kimmie Ruanto, Allison Ruanto, Rachel Pinto, Natalie Mo and Anthony Swaminathan. Jenny Plasse, who plays “poor Eliza,” deserves special notice, as she was quite good.
Of course, “The King and I” would not be as popular were it not for the King’s children, each one cuter than the other: Jenny Chen, Naomi Debello, Amaralyn Ewey, Cedric Hughes, Emma Kehr, Lily Linaweaver, Elena Lipman, Natalie Mo, Jihan Moon, Jimin Moon,Keri Ruanto, Kimmie Ruanto and Anthony Swaminathan.
DMTC’s 27th season is off to a good start.