The King and I

Comedy
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The King and I (© Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert
The King and I ( © Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert
The King and I ( © Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert
The King and I ( © Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert
The King and I (© Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert
The King and I ( © Marie-Noëlle Robert)
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© Marie-Noëlle Robert

Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical comedy about a charismatic king who appoints a tutor to teach Shakespearean English to his kids is a classic regal romp of epic proportions. Against the exotic backdrop of 19th-century Siam, King Mongkut meets his match in the newly arrived governess Anna Leonowens, and a good old-fashioned clash of cultures and personalities ensues. The message is somewhat simplistic – we lend a helping hand, we sing together, we dress ourselves in European clothes and voilà, everything is dandy in the colony. Yet if the piece skirts around certain colonial issues (polygamy in particular), it isn't afraid to show up the greed of the imperialist West.

Yul Brynner's legendary portrayal of the king of Siam in the original stage version and the subsequent film has set the standard for subsequent performances. Stepping into his shoes in this production at the Théâtre du Châtelet is Lambert Wilson, a surprising but inspired choice. Funny and wholly convincing, he gives us a Mongkut ill at ease in his position of authority; the king's awkwardness generates some preliminary comedy, but his character acquires depth and emotional resonance over the course of the lengthy running time. Opposite Wilson is the soprano Christine Buffle, who gets to display her vocal chops in the lively song 'Getting To Know You'. But even her ripping coloraturas can't conceal a certain blandness in her acting.

Throughout, 'The King and I' strikes a nice balance between lightness of tone and emotional depth. The set design is without a doubt one of the star elements of the show, along with the fantastic Uncle Tom's Cabin scene. Well worth a watch.

Running time: 3hrs 15min with an interval.
Performed in English, subtitled in French.

By: Elsa Pereira (trans. Catherine Bennett)

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