Thursday, 31 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The KIng And I - The Grand Theatre, Leeds.


1-2-3 And..

'The King and I' is one of the first musical films I can remember watching, featuring the wonderful Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, from 1956, and is a fictional (so I am lead to believe) story, about the King of Siam (now known as Thailand), and a widowed Welsh schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, who arrives in Bangkok with her son after being summoned to tutor the royal children.

Accompanied by a glorious score by Richard Rogers, and Oscar Hammerstein II, it is a bundle of 19th century joy, taking a 21st century audience back to 20th century Broadway.

I usually end up writing endless superlatives in my reviews, but I fear I would run out, and end up using the same ones time and time again, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.. but as this show was one of the most impressive and elegant shows I’ve seen, I don’t think they wouldn’t be enough. I really enjoyed how each scene was fitting the period, and the grandeur of the palace setting, with great use of space. There was also a ship! Which sailed on to the stage as a wonderful spectacle, similar to the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Kudos to set designer Micheal Yeargan. Adding to the settings, were the costumes, which thanks to Yvonne Milnes, were stylish, yet relevant to the period.

Possibly my favourite moment of the show was the Inception style scene where we were watching actors on stage, who were watching dancers perform a theatre show, for the ‘Small House Of Uncle Thomas’ routine. This was a very difficult and technical 10-minute section of the show, which was executed to great effect. There was a lot of people running on and off the stage, with many props, many lighting cues, and a really challenging score, underneath what looked to be a physically challenging routine, but I am happy to tell you that it all worked beautifully and it was executed to the highest standard. All the plaudits should go to chorgeographer Christopher Gattelli, not only for this scene, but for the whole production’s dance routines.

The show's running time was 2h55, which normally I would say is too much, but it really didn’t feel that way, and when I checked my phone on the way back to my car, I was actually surprised to see that it was 22:30, as it had not felt all that long while watching. The music of the show had not been updated to work with a small ensemble of pianos, and there was a live string section, brass, wind and percussion, for once, it was a small orchestra, rather than a wealth of pianos and some guitars. Also keeping the whole of the score, I’ve been either involved in, or have watched many shows where directors have cut the overture, or the entr’acte in the second half, the exit music and often the bows, I was glad that the orchestra were allowed to perform these. And led by Musical Director, and Conductor, Malcolm Forbes- Peckham, they did a marvellous job.

“Never work with animals or children” that famous quote by William Fields, referring to child actors in a film setting inferring that they would steal the scene, well today was no different, but luckily they were used in a way that they were able to have their little moment in each scene, then they were either sat on the floor, or bent over bowing. The children in this production were of all ages, from very young to teens, and they all worked together very well, but the praise for the show's massive success must go to our King, Jose Llana and Mrs Anna, Annalene Beechey. Both seemed perfect for their roles, having played them with such class, and having both played the roles numerous times before. They were a wonderful casting. Sharing in a really great on-stage chemistry, and sharing in wonderful comedic moments, all the way to the King's untimely death (spoiler..). Llana must be the most inventive actor I’ve seen on stage when it comes to facial expressions, as he had an endless supply of them, each setting the tone for the scene, or handing us a little titter here and there.

Thanks to Director, Bartlett Sher, for keeping the show as it should be, and for not modernising it, as so many things seem to be these days. The show in its original format is a breathe of fresh air in today's theatre line-ups as any new show that comes out seems to be a juke-box show or a Disney production. This was noted on my way out of the theatre, with the advertising of We Will Rock You, On Your Feet, and Sister Act!

What a wonderful evening of theatre. Thanks.

Reviewer - Simon Oliver

on - 30/10/19

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