“The King and I” is a large-scale musical by one of my favorite teams: composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. If you’ve seen the Broadway version of “Cinderella” on stage or screen, that’s thanks to Rodgers and Hammerstein too. AND it’s topped with choreography by Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story,” “Peter Pan.”) The Broadway production is based on the novel “Anna and the King of Siam” which was based on the real-life memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam.
Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher whom the King hires to teach his many wives and even more children.
“The King and I“ deals with huge issues through its drama and song, among them sexism, racism, slavery, polygamy, death and human trafficking; making the show timely and thought provoking – while still family-friendly and optimistic. (If you plan to take little ones to the show, there is an educational guide you can prep or follow up with.) This revival production of the show is directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher and won four 2015 Tony Awards. The U.S. national tour of “The King and I” began in November 2016 and is currently in Tampa, Florida, at the Straz Center.
In this version the costumes are more period appropriate and simpler, all adopted from actual images of nineteenth century Siam. But don’t worry, Anna still floats about the stage in one of the largest ball gowns Broadway has ever seen in the musical number “Shall we Dance?” The acting and singing of the extraordinary cast captivates audiences. The set, though sparse, is interesting and innovative.
Though I remember my mom singing “Getting To Know You” and “Shall We Dance” when I was little, I never saw the stage production and only saw small clips of the movie. I was excited to be offered 2 complimentary tickets by Tampa Bay Bloggers for a date night to finally view the show in its entirety in exchange for this review. I enjoyed the pro-female sentiments and far-Eastern critique of the West trying to change their culture to better them, while both cultures saw each other as a bit backwards. My husband likened the show to “The Sound of Music,” another Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece, due to the many cute, singing children a woman is brought in to care for while having an increasingly confusing relationship with their father.
The show does make one wonder, however, how long we’ll continue viewing classic scripts full of prejudice before they are retired for tales with more modern themes. It is unfortunate that this show is still so relatable in 2017.