Siam comes to life in Director Nick Bowling’s production of “The King and I,” where east meets west and a British schoolteacher dances with a king.
Based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” “The King and I” is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fifth musical and follows the story of Anna, a widowed English schoolteacher who arrives in Bangkok at the request of the King of Siam to tutor his many children. As Anna learns more about Siam, its culture and its people, she falls in love with both the palace children and the King of Siam himself. The King of Siam finds Anna to be a different kind of woman, a “very difficult woman.”
The Marriott Theatre’s production is incredibly lively, from its colorful and elaborate costumes to its vivid scenery and remarkable choreography. Bowling also incorporates a great deal of humor into the performance, from the manner in which the children first introduce themselves to Anna to the King of Siam’s simplemindedness and childishness. Following closely to the original 1956 film version, Bowling’s production is also serious and heartfelt, earning the audience’s admiration and compassion for its characters.
Heidi Kettenring plays Anna Leonowens exactly as she should be: intelligent, strong-willed and defiant while also very kind, caring and open-minded. Kettenring has a beautiful voice, which she masters perfectly in the musical’s famous number, “Getting to Know You,” when she sweetly sings and dances with the King of Siam’s children.
With his commanding voice and tall posture, Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte plays the King of Siam as a difficult, spoiled and ignorant man with a very good heart who seeks the best for his people and wants to establish a good relationship with the west, specifically England. Guilarte is also quite playful throughout the performance.
Megan Masako Haley (Tuptim) and Kristen Choi (Lady Thiang) are also wonderful actresses. Haley, who has a beautiful voice, expresses her character’s anguish at being separated from the man she loves, while Choi, who has a high operatic-like voice, plays the King of Siam’s first wife as a wise and patient woman who sees past the king’s many faults.
Elaborate golden gates greet the audience when they walk into the theater and golden arches placed around the top of the stage evoke the far-away world of 1862 Siam, thanks to Set Designer Thomas M. Ryan. That same sense of extravagance and wealth is beautifully portrayed through the performance’s costumes, designed by Nancy Missimi. Missimi demonstrates the sharp contrast between the more practical, flowing, sparkling and brightly-colored robes of the people of Siam to the complicated and heavily fabricated outfits of English women, like Anna. Anna’s dresses in Bowling’s performance are a real feat, grand and adorned with ruffles, puffed sleeves, hats, gloves and ribbons.
The Marriott Theatre’s new production of “The King and I” is so engaging and wonderful that audiences will not want the performance to end.