Show/Venue: The King & I at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center Theater
Date: Friday, April 24th, 2015 @ 8pm
Starring: Kelli O’Hara, Ken Watanabe, Ruthie Ann Miles, Ashley Park, Conrad Ricamora, Cole Horibe
Whenever my Dad comes to visit me in NYC, we go to see a Broadway show. This time I let him choose from the list of shows I had wanted to see, so he picked out The King & I. I don’t know how I had never seen this show in any earlier incarnation, so I had to look up the plot lines and history on Wikipedia. However, Dad was already familiar with the show from seeing a version on TV several years ago. For once, he was really excited about seeing the show vs. Once, where he fell asleep before Steve Kazee even started singing, and even agreed to getting a little bit dressed up to attend.
Some of the tunes were familiar (“Getting to Know You,” “Shall We Dance?”), but I had gotten to know them out of context of this show. Mostly, I was excited to see Kelli O’Hara perform in any capacity, since she is extraordinary and always a delight to watch. I was also excited to see Conrad Ricamora again & to finally see Ruthie Ann Miles in person, as I had only seen Jaygee Macapugay in Here Lies Love.
Written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, the show follows Anna Leonowens (Kelli O’Hara; Bridges of Madison County, Nice Work if You Can Get It, South Pacific), a British woman who is hired by the Siamese King (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samuari) to help teach the Royal Children. She comes to Siam with her young son, Louis (Jake Lucas of Newsies fame) and with a healthy bit of fear; How will she fit in? What will the children be like? How will they adjust to Siam?
Upon arrival, Anna is unlike any woman that the King has met; she is strong-willed and spends a bit of Act One telling the King that she needs him to uphold his part of their contract. In this contract, the King promised Anna that she would have her own house, adjacent to the Palace, but he has kept her under his watchful eye in the Palace for months.
Anna is introduced to Lady Thiang (Ruthie Ann Miles), the King’s “first wife,” and they learn how to work together for the good of all the Royal Children & the King’s many wives. In “The March of the Siamese Children,” each of the Royal Children and their respective mothers are introduced to Anna and she is delighted to get to know each of them.
As a peace offering from Burma, a young man, Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora, Here Lies Love, How to Get Away With Murder), with business in Siam, brings a young woman, Tuptim (Ashley Park, Mamma Mia!) to be one of the King’s slaves and potential wives. Sadly, Tuptim is in love with Lun Tha and must hide her true feelings from the King. However, the King can already sense her detachment and cannot understand why a girl would not want to live in the Palace and be loved by him.
Anna starts to educate the Royal Children and the King’s many wives. She teaches them of things like the world being round and how snow and ice are formed. Tuptiim also reveals that she knows English and is writing a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which further isolates her from the King. The King does not approve of how much Tuptim knows and how she is strong-willed with a mind of her own, much like Anna. As Anna continues her education of the Royal Children and their Mothers, the King starts to realize how much he does not know, as he educates his oldest son, Chualongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz, in his LCT/Broadway Debut). The King explains that sometimes even as the King, you cannot know everything, but it is important to never show this to your subjects.
As the political state of Siam begins to change and the King is described as a “barbarian” in the English news, Anna does her best to restore the goodwill between Siam and England. She helps arrange a visit from Sir Edward Ramsey (Edward Baker-Duly, Peter and the Starcatcher), who is also one of her old friends. During this meeting, Tuptim will present her play of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” and then plan her escape from Siam with Lun Tha. Before the performance, the King sees Anna dancing with Sir Edward and becomes a bit jealous. He then requests that Anna dances with him like she did with Sir Edward. It’s during this dance that their love for one another begins to show.
After the performance of Tuptim’s play, the Royal Guards learn that Tuptim has escaped from their watch and they go on a hunt to find her and her lover, Lun Tha. Tuptim is found and brought to the Palace for punishment, to which Anna quickly rushes to Tuptim’s defense. After seeing the King’s display of abuse towards Tuptim, she decides that she & Louis must leave Siam, the King and his family for good. Tuptim then learns that Lun Tha has been killed and expresses that she has nothing else to live for, but the Kingdom has not heard the last from her.
Shortly thereafter, the King’s health starts to deteriorate and he calls his son to his room, as he is the next in line for the throne. As Anna and Louis are preparing to leave, she learns of his sickness and quickly leaves her departing ship to be at the King’s side. Once she is at the Palace, the King requests that Prince Chulalongkorn explain how he would rule Siam when he is King. Much to the King’s surprise, Chulalongkorn proclaims that there will be no more bowing to the King, women will not be as subserviant and other more modern principles. Lady Thiang beams with pride at her son’s proclamations, as new politics will start in Siam. Anna takes down these notes from the Prince, as the King slowly passes.
As always, Kelli O’Hara was stellar in the role of Anna. After seeing her in The Bridges of Madison County, last year, I was very impressed with her ability to create an authentic English accent, after portraying an Irish woman in the fields of Iowa in Bridges. She fell into the role with ease and was completely believable in every moment of her performance.
After the show had started, I kept my eyes peeled for Conrad Ricamora. When I saw Here Lies Love at the Public Theatre on New Year’s Eve, he immediately became one of my Broadway crushes. (I even binge watched all the available episodes of How to Get Away With Murder, just to see him and subsequently got hooked on the show.) He gets his first song in the middle of Act One, “We Kiss in a Shadow,” with Ashley Park and the goosebumps started. The passion in his voice filled the theatre and you could feel their pain, as their forbidden love is declared in secrecy from the King and the Palace. Even though they both get their chances to shine in this duet, Ashley Park’s voice in “My Lord and Master” was crystal clear and wonderful, as she sings about the King and how she must be enslaved to him.
I was slightly disappointed in Ken Watanabe’s LCT and Broadway debut as the King. Although he wasn’t as bad as Russell Crowe in the movie version of Les Miserables, his voice was not up to the caliber I thought a Broadway actor should be; but at least he was an Asian actor in the role of the King (as many King’s in previous productions had been played by white actors). I had a hard time understanding some of his lines, which could have been to his own accent, his affected accent in his role and the fact that he does not have Broadway vocal training. His vocal performance was not quite cringe worthy, but it didn’t blow me away. He did have chemistry with Kelli O’Hara, but it was still difficult to believe his love for Anna, based on his diction and enunciation throughout his performance.
My next fangirl moment came during Tuptim’s play with Cole Horibe playing Buddha in the story. I first became a fan of Cole, because of his sister, Cara, who was in the Fanny Pak crew on America’s Best Dance Crew and then when I saw his own dancing in Season 9 of So You Think You Can Dance, where he combined his own martial arts skills with modern and hip-hop influenced dance; (you bet I voted for him every week on SYTYCD!). Then, a few years ago, I saw him in the Signature Theatre’s production of Kung Fu, where he played Bruce Lee, and although I wasn’t impressed with his faux Chinese accent, I did enjoy his performance. Here, he does not have any solos, but it was still a pleasure to watch his dancing and to see a familiar face on the stage.
I may have never seen Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love, but I felt like I knew her from listening to her voice on the cast recording so much. As I Tweeted my excitement for the show, she replied to me and expressed that she hoped I would stop by the Stage Door after the show. I kept imagining her as Imelda, even as she was clearly Lady Thiang. Ruthie Ann was excellent in this role, showing poise and balance as the “first wife,” through keeping Tuptim and Lun Tha’s romance a secret from her husband and raising her son to be the next King of Siam.
Another bright spot was the performance of all the children and how they interacted with Kelli O’Hara. They were adorable and even made me tear up a little when they gathered around Anna to express their love and to beg her not to leave the Palace. Additionally, the vivid and extravagant costumes, especially Anna’s dresses, added so much to the production. I’m not much of a “dress girl,” but I definitely felt like putting on a ball gown after watching the way O’Hara moved around in her hoop skirts!
The movement and choreography by Christopher Gattelli in the show was superb! I may be a bit biased though, as I loved his work in Newsies and I could see his influence in some of the larger group dance numbers. My only disappointment was that there was not as much ballet in the portion of Tuptim’s play, which was an iconic dance number from some of the previous productions.
I was also impressed by the prop work, as the beginning of the show starts with Anna and Louis’ arrival on a boat that takes up the whole stage. Before the opening number, the audience is able to see the Orchestra in their pit, below the stage. As the first number starts, the boat comes out over the pit, with the stage completely covering the Orchestra and the people of Siam enter to welcome Anna. Additionally, the nuances of the King’s Palace and the moving set pieces were a joy to watch and see how each scene was changed through the use of fabric to create various natural elements.
After the show, I convinced my Dad to stand at the Stage Door with me, even though it was almost 11pm and he’d been up since 5am, traveling and exploring the city with me all day. I patiently waited at the Stage Door with some other fans and watched as the various cast members emerged. Some scuttled out quickly after the show, so I missed an opportunity to speak to Ashley Park. However, as soon as Conrad emerged, I called out his name and got an autograph and a sort of stealthy photo, as he signed another fan’s Playbill. Eventually, Ruthie Ann emerged, so as I went to say hello, Dad grabbed a photo of her signing my Playbill and she thanked me for coming as I gushed about Here Lies Love to her and thanked her for replying to my Tweet. Overall, I was happy with my experience, but I kind of wish Ken Watanabe would have been stronger in the role of the King.
2. I Whistle a Happy Tune
3. My Lord and Master
4. Hello, Young Lovers
5. The March of Siamese Children
6. A Puzzlement
7. The Royal Bangkok Academy
8. Getting to Know You
9. We Kiss in a Shadow
10. A Puzzlement (Reprise)
11. Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?
12. Something Wonderful
13. Finale Act I
1. Western People Funny
2. I Have Dreamed
3. Hello, Young Lovers (Reprise)
4. The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Ballet)
5. Song of the King
6. Shall We Dance?
7. I Whistle a Happy Tune (Reprise)