Monday, 30 December 2013

Showtime -- The King and I

The local production of The King and I presented at Gateway Theatre
Yesterday we went to see a local production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I at Gateway Theatre in Richmond.

A family friend joked to my New York-based sibling that this show was amateurish compared to productions on Broadway, but we were undeterred and bought tickets.

As we walked into the theatre it occurred to me that perhaps this musical was chosen because it was being presented in Richmond, where there is a large Asian (Chinese) population, but regardless it's a feel-good show that's good for the holidays.

The original King of Siam Yul Brynner
The last time I saw a live production of The King and I was many years ago when Yul Brynner played the title role at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. I just remember him being such a dynamic and charismatic character. He had played the King of Siam so many times on stage and screen that he was the king.

On a side note in 2006 my family and I took an Asian cruise on Princess and visited Vladivostock, Russia, where the only thing we found interesting was Brynner's childhood home which had turned into an office.

Nevertheless I didn't remember much of the story so this show was a good refresher.

The musical is based on the 1944 novel called Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Langdon, which was derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an English governess to the King of Siam's children in the 1860s.

In the show Anna is a strong-headed female character which is unusual for that time, but perhaps because she was a widow and teacher, her only wish was to be treated fairly.

Brynner dancing with Deborah Kerr
Meanwhile the King's sexist attitude towards women seems outrageous to westerners, but not surprising to Asians who used to, and in Thailand's case still revere their king.

The King and Anna don't see eye-to-eye on many things and on many levels, while the king's children are eager to learn as much as they can from Anna and they are confronted by trying to understand the difference between scientific knowledge and traditional beliefs.

Overall Barbara Tomasic as Anna was fantastic, a strong singer who easily stood up to King Phra Maha Mongut played by Jovanni Sy, who is also the artistic director of of the show.

We also liked Rosie Simon as Tuptim, the Burmese princess sent as a "gift" to the King of Siam. Her singing was ethereal to say the least paired with her lover Lun Tha played by Justin Daniel Lapena.

Could we just add that Tyler Wong as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn sounded like Charlie Brown?! He wasn't very articulate and tried very hard to look regal...

A few scenes were cut in the already long show -- such as the blooming romance between Tuptim and Lun Tha, the banquet scene of the King hosting diplomats from England, and torturing Tuptim after she is caught trying to flee Siam.

The local production featured a number of Asian kids on stage
Perhaps the longest scene was the Thai version of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" featuring a narrated dance about black slaves escaping the underground railroad to Canada. Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the dance sequence here didn't stray far from the original.

A number of children were recruited for the production, many of them Chinese, while a few were Caucasian and just barely looked the park with their dirty blond hair.

Set mostly in the palace, the set was relatively minimalist, but did the job, with a few props to embellish the stage.

In the end the show was very enjoyable and for $49 a ticket, was great value for entertainment on a cold day.

The King and I
December 5-31, 2013
Gateway Theatre
6500 Gilbert Road
604 270 6500

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