Laura Van Fossen & Gary Crockett in The King and I.
The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein III
Based on Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
Directed by Alan Weller
Reviewed by Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The King and I is one of the all-time classic Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, an icon of the glory days of American musical theatre when giants walked the Great White Way. The story tells of the English woman who comes to Bangkok in the1860’s to take up the post of governess to the favored children of the King of Siam.
Of course, as beloved as these shows are for community theatre audiences, they can also be corny, out-of-date, and sometimes in conflict with modern sensibilities. However enduring its popularity, The King and I was always criticized for a largely inaccurate depiction of the history and culture of Siam (now Thailand), and the paucity of Asian actors cast in central roles is characteristic of the many revivals.
But what stands the test of time for any Rodgers & Hammerstein piece is always the score. Even if you have never seen it, songs such as “I Whistle A Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know You”, and “Shall We Dance” have earned their place in the Great American Songbook and are most likely familiar to you. The music alone will guarantee the life of this show for future generations.
This production is decidedly uneven, yet proves winning enough to satisfy. The sets and costumes are colorful and resplendent, the music, as in most productions with a limited budget, remains limited in its ability to realize the rich, melodic score, yet is a tasteful trio of keyboard, woodwind, and drums that represents an expansion of the accompaniment in many previous Hayswood musicals.
Laura Van Fossen gives fine voice, humor and charm to Anna Leonowens, and Gary Crockett delivers appropriate imperiousness to the King, and finds the delicate shift in the relationship that provides much-needed subtlety to the tensions of the story. These two are prevented by cultural circumstances from allowing a fully realized romance (the King has many wives already) so that all must remain unrequited, yet watching these two onstage brought contextual insight into Anna and the King. They are both, overly proud, stiff-backed representations of their respective countries and cultures: Anna is born of Victorian England and the King strives to maintain the integrity of Siam in the face of expanding foreign powers. And the arrogance of the Siamese, both in the King’s outsize personality and the classroom scenes in which we witness his children’s confidence in their homeland’s position as the center of the world, comes across as a reflection of the consuming British Empire.
Nice work could also be found from Sandy Aich as Lady Thiang, who sang well, and, along with Kevin Anderson delivered solid support. I also thought Megan Bauserman was an effective Tuptim, a slave girl sent by the king of Burma to be the newest wife to the King. She sang sweetly and displayed a professional bearing in all of her scenes. More problematic was Evan Hansen as her forbidden love, Lun Tha. He clearly was working hard in his vocal performance, but was a wooden presence except for a certain unease and restlessness that worked against Ms. Bauserman’s still confidence.
Other problems arise with the necessary presence of so many children in the cast. For the most part they were charming and disciplined enough, but there were a few moments where they were given the spotlight that played more like a fledgling after-school theatrical than the polished production that is being attempted here. I will say that Theodore Copperwaite managed some nice moments as Prince Chulalongkorn, emulating his father’s self-conscious posturing to humorous effect, and the young ones moved well in the (slightly too) long ballet sequence illustrating the Siamese take on “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”.
There was also a good deal of meaningful action blocked too far forward on the stage to be seen past the first few rows. Some of it, such as the King’s hilarious lesson to Anna to keep her head below his at all times, is logically placed, but it remained a problem. The fact that there was such a large cast (over 30) to manage on the modest Hayswood stage is undoubtedly a challenge, but it is frustrating when only a few actors are involved with a scene, playing good moments staged out of view of much of the audience.
By and large this is an effective, traditional, and at times, pedestrian production that will entertain well enough, and does service to the often over-looked and surprisingly subversive subtext that can be found in Rodgers & Hammerstein. When the King speaks with Anna about the Civil War raging at that moment in America and the righteousness of fighting to abolish slavery, and a few moments later threatens brutal punishment after Tuptim has attempted to run away, the text is getting at something a little deeper than romance and laughter delivered in a glittering entertainment.
The King and I
July 18 – August 3.
Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
115 S. Capitol Ave.
Corydon, IN 47112