The King and I: A Challenging Musical for a Community Theatre Company

Reviewed by Iris Winston

The title of The King and I is a clear indication of the viewpoint of the 1951 Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein’s musical. After all, it is a first-person account of the experiences of a Victorian widow teaching in Siam.

The story educator Anna Leonowens told in her memoirs is still regarded as unfair and distasteful in Thailand (previously known as Siam). The characterization of the king — a Buddhist monk before he ascended to the throne — as presented in Margaret Landon’s 1944 book, Anna and the King of Siam, the fictionalized account of Leonowens’ The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and Romance of the Harem (1872) is also disputed.

Anna is credited with encouraging the heir to the throne to modernize the ways of his court, such as abolishing prostration before the monarch. However, because he had been a Buddhist monk, King Mongkut was unlikely to have ordered violence against a runaway wife. But, regardless of cultural view or historical fact, the enduring images for modern western society are of a smiling crinoline-clad teacher surrounded by the adoring royal children of Siam as she sings of getting to know them and, both on stage and screen, the shaven-headed Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Suzart production of The King and I directed by Kraig-Paul Proulx follows this path with a Brynner look-alike. As the monarch, Brendan Ryan copes well with the musical demands of the role but is not always as forceful as the role demands. The characterization might have been easier for him, if his appearance had not been a constant reminder of Brynner’s regal authority.

As the musical requires, Mary Lou Hulan, as Anna, is front and centre throughout. Hulan’s singing voice is beautiful and she is at her best in such numbers as I Whistle a Happy Tune and Hello Young Lovers. She is less comfortable in delivering an authentic English accent (for example, those over-pronounced ‘o’s) to the point that concentration on accent impairs an otherwise fine characterization.

As head wife, Lady Thiang, Shirley Hockin delivers a lovely version of Something Wonderful and Adam Linton, as Anna’s son Louis, provides one of the strongest performances in the show.

Under the baton of musical director Alina Séguin, the focus is on the musical numbers. While Proulx’s choreography is disappointing, a workable set designed by Elaine McCausland and costumes for the close to 50-strong cast designed by Maureen Russell create a colourful backdrop for a show that appears to be enjoyable for performers as well as audience members.

The King and I runs from May 25 to May 27.

Ottawa, Iris Winston, May 26, 2012

The King and I

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Suzart Productions (May 25 to 27, 2012)

Director and choreographer: Kraig-Paul Proulx

Musical director: Alina Séguin

Set: Elaine McCausland

Costumes: Maureen Russell

Sound: Shauna-Lee Thompson

Lighting: Rob Puchyr and Shona Woodland

Cast:

Anna…………………………………..Mary Lou Hulan

Louis, her son…………………………Adam Linton

King of Siam…………………………..Brendan Ryan

Prince Chulalongkorn, his heir………..Spencer Kahler

Lady Thiang, king’s head wife………..Shirley Hockin

Phra Alack, secretary………………….Jay Landreville

Lun Tha, emissary…………………….Jamie Rice

Tuptim…………………………………Lindsay Allen

Sir Edward Ramsey……………………Peter Maitland

Princess Ying Yaowlak………………..Katie Shepherd

The Kralahome……………………..…Randy Coles

Interpreter……………………………..Scott Shepherd

Captain Orton…………………………Robert Smolkin

Royal wives: Shannon Avery, Tanys Coughlan, Sophea Cowan, Sharon Letovsky, Alison Manning, Tuija-Liisa Niemi, Monica Poirier, Sue Potechin, Carol Rose and Mikayla Young.

Princes: Cullen Armstrong, Zander Bone, Ethan Grove, Brady Johnston-Nielsen, Max Linton, Alex Shepherd.

Princesses: Stefanie Almond, Bernice Corbishley, Elizabeth Crow, Sarah Houston, Maya Ruckenstein, Adrianna Sullivan, Bryanna Watt.

Priests: Hamish Macdonald, Peter Maitland, Kathi Subramaniam, Michael Xu.

Guards: Tricia Curtis, Dani Bone-Corbishley, Valerie Houston, Jackie Roy.

Dancers and courtiers: Dani Bone-Corbishley, Emma Deeks, Noah Groves, Megan Hulan, Tamara Mervin, Lily Meyer, Jamie Rice, Tesh Subramaniam.

 

 

 


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