The Walnut Street Theatre presents the critically acclaimed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” as part of its 203rd season. As the holiday season choice, the show is a great option for all ages. Running until after the new year, it’s something fun to do over Drexel’s long holiday break with friends and family.
The story begins with British governess Anna arriving in Siam with her young son. She has been hired by the King to teach his 67 royal children as well as a handful of his many wives. There is an immediate clash between the Western and Eastern views on women, science and more. Anna is completely out of her element against the stubborn King, who does not receive her for the first two to three weeks after her arrival. However, her instantaneous connection with the royal children banish any thoughts of returning to England.
The audience is transported to an exotic and foreign land when the curtain rises on the most detailed, decadent stage imaginable. No surface was left untouched by intense painting to depict a sun-streaked background filled with Thai temples and stunning palatial architecture. As the scenes move from inside to outside settings, the lighting changes, keeping with the romantic feel of the entire story. The costume designer spared no expense at recreating the early 1860s clothes. The Thai garments are made out of sumptuous silks that shine in the light, and the girls are covered in jewels. The transformation into European clothing mimicking Anna’s, made by the King’s wives in order to impress the foreign dignitaries, is comical and packs a surprising twist.
The leads have obvious chemistry, and each brings an important dynamic to what could be an outdated story. Broadway’s Rachel York brings intense passion to the role of Anna, and the scenes in which she stands up to the King are unforgettable. Her unbelievable singing voice coupled with a powerful stage presence leaves the audience wanting more every time she belts out recognizable songs such as “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” On the other hand, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, in the role of the King, has the unique challenge of bringing to life a character who could feel a little passe. The storyline deals with more than one moment that may be a little politically incorrect, but neither race is singled out. On the contrary, the cast brings humanity to the East and West clash, and it is applicable to our modern situations.
However, it is the child actors who steal the show.. Their innocence and comedic interjections lighten the scenes and make it the perfect family show. One hilarious moment revolves around the explanation of ice and snow to children who have never left Southeast Asia. They declare that they “do not believe in snow.” The King struggles to bring science and education to his kingdom in hopes that it will be able to compete with the West.
The production also contains the ballet “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” based upon Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Narrated by the slave princess Tuptim, it is a spectacle not to be missed. The story of slavery in America is translated to fit the situations of Siam and is Tuptim’s barely concealed protest. Her side story with her Burmese lover is heartbreaking, and both actors are captivating.
“The King and I” runs through Jan. 8. For tickets and more information, visit www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.