Theater review: "The King and I"
Â Daily Progress theater reviewer
Published: July 29, 2011
Â It doesnâ€™t get much better than this.
â€œThisâ€? would be â€œThe King and I,â€? which opened at the Paramount Saturday night. This lavish, beautifully acted and gloriously sung production, reviewed at final dress rehearsal, is arguably the best locally produced musical seen here in years.
â€œThe King and Iâ€? is a perennial favorite, one of Rodgers and Hammersteinâ€™s best-loved musicals. This based-on-a-true-story tale of an Englishwoman employed to teach at the request ofÂ the KingÂ of Siam features songs that endure, including â€œHello Young Lovers,â€? â€œGetting to Know Youâ€? and â€œShall We Dance.â€?
It helps that the performers are opera singers, though that hasnâ€™t always been the case forAsh Lawn. There were times when the young performers could sing, but couldnâ€™t act well. This production gives us singers who act as well as they sing, and also features a bevy of local talent, including a number of area children as the kingâ€™s offspring.
There is a nuanced chemistry betweenÂ Elizabeth Andrews RobertsÂ asÂ AnnaÂ andÂ Seth Mease CaricoÂ asÂ the king. Both are undeniably talented; Robertsâ€™ pure, rich soprano and solid acting bring to light all the shades of the character and do full justice to the well-loved songs.
Carico sneaks up on you; if you saw last yearâ€™s shows, you might not reconcile his regal presence to the clever servant he played in last yearâ€™s production of â€œDon Giovanniâ€? or to the funny sidekick in â€œBrigadoon.â€?
He is masterful asÂ the king, with a voice so rich you could sink into it, complemented by superb acting. The two together are electric.
It shouldnâ€™t be surprising that the show has come together so well. Directing this lush production isÂ Baayork Lee, who, at 6, was in the original Broadway cast asÂ PrincessYing, and has been in professional theater ever since, asÂ dancer, actor and director.Â Her perfectionism was evident even at rehearsal.Â
LeeÂ has brought with her asÂ assistant director and choreographerÂ Susan Kikuchi, who also has spent her life in professional theater. Sheâ€™s given us exceptional dances (and dancers). When music, acting and dance come together this well, a show can be unstoppable.
Add to that more than 100 stunning costumes by world-famousÂ costume designerÂ Nuria Carrasco, brought fromÂ New YorkÂ for the occasion, and the effect is breathtaking. Such rich costumes do more than just look pretty; they helpÂ the actorÂ become the character within the clothing.
Whatâ€™s amazing is that the Paramount stage is still a movie theater stage, with no fly space or large backstage area to accommodate a bodacious set. Here, the cast and costumes become the set, complemented byÂ set designerÂ Margie Jervisâ€™ simple and effective movable batik panels and minimal furniture, and subtle lighting effects byÂ Scott Wirtz-Olsen.
The only thing wrong with the show seems to be that it runs for just five performances.
'The King and I' has royal pedigree
Published: July 29, 2011
When the curtain rises Saturday on Ash Lawn Opera Festivalâ€™s production of â€œThe King and I,â€? the commanding main character wonâ€™t be the only Broadway royalty in the house.
Baayork Lee, who playedÂ PrincessÂ Ying in the original Broadway production of the Richard Rodgers-OscarÂ Hammerstein II musical, is in the directorâ€™sÂ chair, leading the second showÂ of Ash Lawn Operaâ€™s season.
The thrill of that first experience of Broadway magic turned a wide-eyed child into a focused student of theater â€” and a lifelong fan of the musical.
â€œThis show changed my life,â€?Â LeeÂ said. â€œI was 5 years old, and I made my mind up at 5 that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to dance. I wanted to be in the theater.
â€œIâ€™ve come full circle â€” Iâ€™m directing â€˜The King and I.â€™ Itâ€™s an honor to be here and to be giving it to a new generation.â€?
Layers of sentiment make the Ash Lawn experience meaningful for her.Â LeeÂ is working once more with longtime friend and frequent collaboratorÂ Susan Kikuchi, who ischoreographer and associate director.
KikuchiÂ was 7 when she first appeared in â€œThe King and I,â€? and she andÂ LeeÂ formed a friendship while both appeared in â€œFlower Drum Song.â€? Both were spellbound by what they experienced, thoughÂ LeeÂ said thatÂ KikuchiÂ gravitated more toward modern dance, whileÂ LeeÂ found her calling in musical theater.
â€œSusie and I have lived â€˜The King and I.â€™ Susanâ€™s mother wasÂ the original lead dancerÂ â€” and I watched her dance, and that was what I wanted to be. I think that because I was so focused as a child, I didnâ€™t have any distractions, and here I am.
â€œIâ€™m so lucky, because in my life in musical theater, Iâ€™ve been blessed, and Iâ€™ve just let it happen.â€?