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The King and I


The multi award-winning Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I returns to the UK, following its critically-acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium.

Helen George, best known as Trixie in the hit BBC One series Call The Midwife, will star as Anna. The King and I is the greatest musical from the golden age of musicals – with one of the finest scores ever written including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.

This gloriously lavish production is brought to the stage by an internationally renowned creative team under Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher (South Pacific / My Fair Lady / To Kill a Mockingbird) and will feature a world-class company of over 50 West End and Broadway performers and a full-scale orchestra.

“We left the London Palladium on a bright cloud of music – joyous!” Daily Mail

“I doubt I will ever see a better production in my lifetime” Wall Street Journal

“Five stars for a sumptuous King and I. Book now. It’s a hit” The Times

Our review on The King and I

The King and I - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Tuesday 9th May 2023 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating

Whenever the words The King And I are uttered to me, I produce an involuntary sigh of genuine love, for this musical holds a special place in my heart.  I saw the production at The London Palladium in 2018, and watched as it transformed the opinion of a couple of friends whose preference is more modern musicals.  I had been dubious as to whether they would enjoy such a “golden oldie.”  But they did, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised because it has some of the most glorious music ever written, a love story that breaks barriers, and it holds a mirror up to some pretty big topics such as prejudice and misogyny, so that we may learn from history.  Add in a wry sense of humour, breath taking costumes and some of the most uplifting and iconic choreography there is, and it’s no wonder that this musical with a difficult political storyline, has stood the test of time, and continues to flourish under the multiple Tony Award winning eye of Bartlett Sher.   

As the story takes us way back to the 1860’s, British school teacher, Anna Leonowens is invited by The King of Siam to educate his numerous wives and children.  He fears for the future of his country and so wants to his people to understand Western ways.  However, when Anna’s cultures and beliefs clash drastically with those of his own and his country, things become rather more complicated.  Anna struggles with his misogynistic views and his use of slavery, and so vows to help Tuptim, a young woman who has been presented to The King as a gift.  As The King and Anna clash between cultural beliefs, traditions and interpretations of honour verses humanity, Anna finds her most difficult student in The King himself.  Yet they both hold an admiration, love and respect for each other, for beyond their differences, they can see a desire to serve, protect and to be the best version of themselves, even if they do not agree on how this should be achieved. 

Alongside this, the British have been reporting The King to be a barbarian.  Anna defends him, proclaiming there is far more to him than they see, and he truly believes he is ruling his country for the good of his people.   She agrees to assist in hosting The British, including Sir Edward Ramsey in Siam, highlighting that this is a country full of culture, passion, beauty and love.  But The King discovers Tuptim has been disobeying his orders and things take a turn for the worst.  As The King falls ill, Anna returns to his side just in time to see “something wonderful” as he offers permission of hope for the future of his beloved country.  Their deeply conflicted, complicated and combusting friendship is felt deeply in these final moments, as a new era is born.

Under the direction of the unquestionable genius of Bartlett Sher, the wow factor of this production has somehow been achieved through a simplistic opulence, which I’m aware contradicts itself, yet that’s exactly what has been achieved.  The flow of the production has been streamlined in such a way that scene and set changes don’t become long and clunky, and everything that is desired is achievable within moments.  Michael Yeargan has excelled in bringing this to fruition, with a set that is not only in keeping with the story as it unfolds, but dazzles with colour, stunning detail, and creates atmosphere via subtle but perfect touches such as hanging flowers from above or the lowering of a giant Buddha.  From the start, a ship melts away with effortless ease, to transport us to Siam, with silhouetted homes raised on legs out of the water, whilst the Palace itself is beautiful in its simplistic design of gilded columns and textured curtains. 

The King is accomplished with mesmerising brilliance by Darren Lee (Chicago, Allegience, Miss Saigon) who without a doubt was born to play this role.  Powerful, commanding, yet with that chink of vulnerability, he epitomises everything The King is meant to be.  He portrays a character, that on the surface to a modern Western world, is vile and unspeakable.  Yet he injects the character with an unquantifiable charm and cheeky humour, meaning that despite his sometimes unpalatable views, you can’t help but like him.  He portrays The King as a man who is still learning, who wants to learn, but is full of pride.  This gives him a playful child like quality that has so often only been hinted at before, and never fully explored.  It really works, and so he manages to confuse the bejesus out of your feelings, which is kind of the whole point.  His performance of “Puzzlement” was a masterclass.

Partnered up with Annalene Beechey (Les Mis, A Little Night Music, Into The Woods) as Anna, we see a love blossom that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Their chemistry on stage is undeniable and as they sway into the iconic “Shall We Dance,” I found myself inexplicably emotional.  Beechey brings Anna to life with a fizzing vivacity, and a fierce and stubborn nature to match any King.  She tempers this with an equally gentle and tender side when interacting with the children and Tuptim.  Her ability to make us feel Anna’s humility in her scenes with Lady Thiang is vital, and she does this so believably that there were a few audience members shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they realised their own presumptions and self-righteous beliefs. 

Cezarah Bonner (Miss Saigon, Peter Pan,) as Lady Thiang was sublime.  The song “Something Wonderful” has been known to bring me to tears in the past, so I am always hyper alert when this song comes on, trying to fight the rush of emotion that overtakes me whilst in the company of thousands of strangers.  I could not.  Bonner’s rendition stands out as possibly the best I’ve heard, but more than that, she made me understand the song on a new level that I never have before.  Following the frenzied audience response, at least I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling to control the tsunami of emotions she released.

Dean John-Wilson (Passion, Aladdin, From Here To Eternity) as Lun Tha and Marienella Phillips (To Henry With Love, Ashes, The Shoemaker) as Tuptim have such a tangible and tender connection on stage.  Their voices blended in such a way that it submerged you into their world completely.  Caleb Lagayan (Les Mis, Spring Awakening, Newsies) was the talk of everyone around me as Prince Chulalongkorn.  He played this man child with such a ferocious blend of arrogance meets innocence that he made the character utterly convincing, and his voice was impeccable.  His rendition of “Puzzlement” was also an impressive moment, and he played well against the talented, articulate, and charming Max Ivemey as Louis.  And of course, we cannot talk about the cast of The King & I without referencing the magnificent children!  Each portrayed unique clear-cut characteristics, each was profoundly talented, and each produced a wave of instinctual response from the audience, resulting in audible “ooh’s” and “awws.”  Make no mistake though, these future stars were not chosen merely on their cute factor and are all fierce performers in their own right. 

There are many iconic moments in The King & I, and many involve dance.  From the gloriously unbridled polka of “Shall We Dance” to the Uncle Tom’s Cabin traditional Siamese ballet, East meets West in a diverse, stunning showcase.  Christopher Gattelli has choreographed a musical tapestry, ensuring traditions are honoured through grace, soul, and beauty.  Rousing numbers nestle alongside delicate storytelling and every beat, every step counts.  Stunning.  Adding to the beauty of the dance is the costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber.  To say they are spectacular seems like a ridiculous understatement.  They are breath taking and are designed to represent the contrasting cultures so well that they even allow for a moment of mockery as the Siamese do not understand the British prim and proper attire for ladies. 

Rodgers & Hammerstein are musical legends, and the rich, emotive, layered, and swelling evidence is in every song they write.  They write music that connects to your brain, your heart, your mind, so that you are left humming it long after the show has finished.  But more than that, their songs hold you in the moment too, and manipulate you into feeling whatever it is they intended you to feel.  I have such fond memories of being in this show myself as a youngster, and listening to what was my song of “Getting To Know You,” made my heart sing.  Ask fans of the show what their favourite song is and you’ll get several different answers, and even though you think you have your own favourite, you’ll equally find yourself agreeing with every answer provided because they are all just pieces of art.  So whether you’re team “Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” or that brilliant soliloquy “Puzzlement,” you really can’t go wrong.

As time has gone on and we all evolve, become more educated, and become more understanding of each other, The King & I has sometimes fallen prey to critique regarding it’s outdated and troubling political, cultural, misogynistic prejudices, with suggestions that these should be addressed and corrected within the story.  But to do this would be to rewrite history and surely history is what serves to teach us about where we have gone wrong.  You cannot forge change if you do not know where the mistakes lie.  It is not the job of this musical to make the change for us.  That is our role as members of our society.  The King & I simply highlights that change should always be welcomed, points us in the right direction, and shows us that it is possible if we allow it.  And it does it with a truly timeless and beautiful score, outstanding performers, and a healthy dollop of humour.  By Royal Command, go and watch The King & I.  


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