By: Dulcie Harrison, TRP Reviewer
Another huge musical hits the stage at our beloved Theatre Royal Plymouth this week.
The King & I, a delightful musical based on the 1956 film starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, but this really does grace the stage with all the poise and glamour as the silver screen.
Annalene Beechey, who played Anna Leonowens, gracefully portrayed the schoolteacher showing head strong determination to build a new successful life for herself and her son Louis (Charlie McGuire) after being widowed. In her new role as teacher and governess to the wives and children of the King of Siam, they quickly settle in their new life, but it isn’t long before cultural differences become evident and cause Anna to question the King’s morals. As the King, played by Brian Rivera, tries to embrace Western ways, it is clear how this confuses him, but Rivera acts this brilliantly by portraying the King as too clever to be confused but humorous enough to feel empathy towards his approach to the new way of thinking.
The chemistry between the two main characters is just as good as on the screen and with both actors understanding and being fully immersed into their roles. With both Anna and the King being headstrong fiery individuals, it leads to an entertaining dynamic between them as well as a learning curve in which they can both learn new things and adopt new ways of life from each other. Their scenes are laced with warm humour as their relationship grows throughout the show – all while making you feel every emotion, thought, and feeling along with them across the story.
The introduction of the King’s children was a delight – a light-hearted scene that was warmly embraced by all of the audience. There were stand out performances from all the children and the dutiful wives.
The Head Wife, Lady Thiang, played by Cezarah Bonner, performed the role with poise and dignity throughout. Her powerful and moving voice leading to an impressive applause and her incredible performance truly brings to life Lady Thiang’s character for an all-round exceptional performance.
The tragic love story between Princess Tuptim (Marienella Phillips) and Lun Tha (Dean John-Wilson) is performed beautifully, with little pockets of secret meetings peppered throughout the show full of longing and desperation as they have to keep their young love for each other hidden. You can’t help but feel your heart break for them as they perform their duets with powerful voices that perfectly blend together to create the sound of true love.
The set design by Michael Yeargan was simple but so impressive. Great use of fabrics to enable scene changes but also reminiscent of Hollywood film glamour. A spectacular visual display of amazing costumes designed by Catherine Zuber captures the stark difference in cultures between Victorian England and Siam. The show captivates and pulls you in right from the beginning as Anna’s ship rolls into Siam’s port to the enchanting garden/ courtyard scenes- that were simple yet spellbinding.
The orchestral excellence playing the familiar beautiful melodies by Rodgers and Hammerstein such as ‘Getting To Know You’, and ‘I Whistle A Happy Tune’ leaves you with goosebumps all over. ‘Shall We Dance’ was another highlight and highly anticipated by the audience and this only builds in momentum from the interval. Again, this is where the costumes come into their own as Anna and the King polka dance on the stage. I bet every female in the audience has imagined themselves in that dress at some point in their life, whether it be as a little girl watching the film to an older woman being in the arms of a king.
The King & I will be playing at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 23rd September, and it is simply a must-see with all the beauty and nostalgia the show conjures.