Shall We Dance? Relive “The King and I” With Intimate Elegance

Porchlight Music Theatre designates its current staging of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic, “The King and I,” “an intimate version of the grand love story.”

Add “elegant” and “creative” to the playbill.

Director L. Walter Stearns’ final Porchlight production as artistic director delivers its promised intimacy at Stage 773’s North Theatre, which seats less than 200. But it’s the simple, creative two-piano orchestrations (symbolizing the joining of two cultures), along with elegant vocals and costuming, that make this production memorable.

At age 30, Brianna Borger’s third stint as British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens brings necessary wisdom to the role, likely unattainable when played in her late teens and early 20s. Wayne Hu, reprising his role as King of Siam, is capably stoic … etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Stage kudos are earned by the b-plot’s star-crossed lovers, played by Eric Kaiko (Lun Tha) and Jillian Anne Jocson (Tuptim), whose cabaret-worthy “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” provide the show’s most stunning vocals. Also deserving mention is pianist Allison Hendrix, whose onstage placement coupled with timely reaction make her a legitimate cast member rather than an in-the-way accompanist.

The king’s wives and children, played by actors from throughout the North Shore, admirably fill out the 24-member cast that is at times cramped on the beautifully-yet-simply adorned thrust stage. But that’s the most minor problem with the venue at 1225 W. Belmont, Porchlight’s Chicago home.

Excellent voices in a professional production should not be hard to hear. But these are, even from the front row. Ventilation or electrical hum, audible music from the production next door (Theatre 773 has three theaters) and volume balance issues between musicians and actors are all noticeable disturbances. One has to hope the theater’s renovation promised for this year will fix the first two.

Nits aside, this talent at $38/ticket (with discounts available for seniors, students and groups) fulfills the venue’s mission to make theater affordable and accessible. It’s nothing short of a producer’s magic trick (thanks to Porchlight’s and Theatre 773’s donors).

The audio issues, however, temper this recommendation into one for those looking to relive the charm of a musical-theater classic in an intimate setting, but not necessarily for those seeking to experience it for the first time.

Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “The King and I” at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 5. Tickets are available online at stage773.com or by calling the box office at 773-327-5252. More information is available at porchlighttheatre.com.