Marriott Theatre. Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Nick Bowling. With Heidi Kettenring, Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, Devin Ilaw, Megan Masako Haley, Kristen Choi. Running time: 2hrs 40mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
For as much as the basic narrative of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical, set in 19th-century Bangkok, can feel cringe-worthy in 21st-century America—depicting as it does an Eastern king hiring an Englishwoman to "civilize" his wives and children by teaching them Western ways—it remains popular. Lincoln Center Theater is preparing a Broadway revival for the spring, to star Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe; Lyric Opera will stage a production in 2016 as part of its five-year Rodgers and Hammerstein series.
Marriott Theatre's lush new production demonstrates well how the show's charms outlast its questionable politics. Director Nick Bowling, making his Marriott debut, gives us a royally lush staging; call it fresh eyes or beginner's luck, but Bowling makes more inventive use of of Marriott's in-the-round configuration, with all its constraints, than I've seen in ages.
If Oscar Hammerstein II's episodic script remains a bit thin, The King and I's score contains many of the duo's most enduring numbers: "Getting to Know You," "Something Wonderful," "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Shall We Dance," among others, are royally appealing tunes, and they're beautifully performed here.
Heidi Kettenring's Anna is a delight—witty, willful, prim but progressive and utterly winning. Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte's King is a bit stiff in the early going (a feature of the role, perhaps), but I warmed to him as Anna does. He even sells his character's sort of ridiculous, drama-king end (dying of a broken heart, really). Terrifically yearning work by Devin Ilaw and Megan Masako Haley as secret lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim, attractive choreography by Tommy Rapley and a passel of adorable child actors, led by Matthew Uzarraga's precocious Crown Prince Chulalongkorn, help make Marriott's production a Siamese dream.