Magnificent KING AND I at Walnut Street Theatre

by Lila Achuff

Rachel York and Mel Sagrado Maghuyop in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I at Walnut Street Theatre. (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

Well, it just never gets old, does it? I’m writing about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I at the Walnut Street Theatre in its 203rd season. It’s simply enchanting! Remember songs like “Hello Young Lovers” and “Getting to Know You”? In this timeless family musical, directed to perfection and beautifully choreographed by Marc Robin, we get transported to another world without moving an inch. Be still my heart.

I like to include some background info on a show, so in case you didn’t already know, the story is based on the 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, and derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who was hired by King Mongkut of Siam to be the governess to the many royal children in the early 1860s; furthermore, she was expected to help modernize his kingdom.
THE KING AND I opened on Broadway in 1951, won five Tony awards including Best Musical, had a three-year run and was made into a musical film in 1956. The Russian-American actor, Yul Brynner (1920-1985), made this role so memorable and, to this day, still makes women swoon. (We really find bald-headed men sexy; actually, Brynner initially resisted even shaving his head for this role.) Not to worry, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, we can melt in your commanding presence as the King of Siam, too.

We open in Act One with Anna (Rachel York), having just sailed from Britain, arriving at the palace with her son, Louis (Conrad Sager). We see that our widowed heroine is self-confident, determined and refusing to be intimidated by anyone (“I Whistle a Happy Tune”). The King, in greeting her, lets it be known that he is the one with all the power. Anna is immediately upset when she realizes that the contract she had signed promised that she was to have a house of her own, separate from the palace. Furthermore, she was displeased (an understatement) that he had many wives who were also his servants. And when Anna observes that the King is given a young girl, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), as a “gift” to be his servant and next wife, oh my goodness. Not only that, the King even expects Anna to act as a servant herself! Let the head-butting begin!

All the King’s children and his many wives gravitate to Anna’s warmth and charm. A special friendship develops between the King’s #1 wife, Lady Thiang (Angelica-Lee Aspiras) and Anna; a West Side Story-type of romance (“Hello, Young Lovers”) begins to grow between Tuptim and Lun Tha (Austin Ku). As the tale weaves through Act One, the King finds himself confused with the changes happening before him (“A Puzzlement”). Only a small part of him is just a little to the left of OK with it all.

I shall leave all of Act Two for your own enjoyment.

No stone was left unturned in this magnificent production of THE KING AND I. The sets were vibrant, colorful and alive, sometimes just breath-taking with excellent lighting. Costumes appeared authentic, impeccable and shone just enough. Great sound system! Musically, all singing was clear, clean and pure; the orchestra, perfection! Lines were still funny even as they were many years ago. The acting was superb! Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.

Until the next show…

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Richard Rodgers
Directed by Marc Robin
November 8, 2011-January 8, 2012
Walnut Street Theatre
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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