The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Review
The King and I

The King and I Ends Its Run With a Sublime Anna Leonowens to Forever Change the Life of the King and His Children. By Elyse Sommer

Marin Mazzie and Daniel Dae Kim (Photo: Paul Kolnick
Kelli O'Hara and Ken Wannabe who originated the lead roles iin Bartlett Sher's beautiful revival of The King and I were each quite wonderful — she with her golden soprano and youthful charm, he oozing charisma. Wannabe abdicated the elegantly designed kingdom but O'Hara remained to cross swords with several other kings. But O'Hara too departed in the latter part of April.

And on May 5th the show got both a new Mrs. Leonowens as well as a new king: Marin Mazzie, whose many Broadway musical roles include Kiss Me Kate, Next to Normal and Ragtime; Daniel Dae Kim, best known for his roles in TV's Lost and Hawai Five-O, but also with a previous run in London as the King of Siam under his belt ( Lizzie Loveridge's review).

Mazzie, a gorgeous 55-year-old, brings a lush voice and a mature self-confidence to the role of the pre-feminist British governess. Kim's King is handsome and sexy and deeply conflicted about his country's future. Best of all, the interaction between Mazzie and Kim is vibrantly alive. Together they bring to life a strong sense of gender politics, with just enough of a sexual undercurrent. They make us understand why this man who sees women as sex and child-bearing objects and this intelligent woman with strong opinions can develop a bond of sorts. Even if you're old enough to remember Yul Brenner who made a career of playing the King, the famous "Shall We Dance" Scene" with Mazzie and Kim is truly special.

With the rest of the key players still on board, but actually more deeply entrenched and better than ever, I wish I could urge all who read this to go back, even if you saw this beautiful production when it opened at the Vivian Beaumont. Alas, while I anticipated being able to give a do-or-don't see again report when I arranged to take in the new leads last Thursday, a June 26th closing notice has been posted. So for me this was a joyous, if sad, farewell visit.

The unexpectedly early closing is a case of the departure of the star who opened a production has a negative effect on the box office — even when the new lead is given high praise, as has been the case for Mazzie, as well as Kim.

Actually, the house was packed with people smart enough to catch this remarkable Anna and her King create their funny but also tragic and uplifting bond. I hope you, dear reader, were one of them.

The Original Review

It's not a puzzlement why The King and I retains its place in the top tier of grand old musicals. You know, the kind they don't make any more— with book that has something meaningful to say and a score with story-telling lyrics to make it soar melodically. I can't urge you strongly enough to dance over to Lincoln Center to see Bartlett Sher's ravishing production. It's not just something tried and true, but spectacularly fresh and new in terms of casting, staging and interpretation.

Like the creative team for the 1951 premiere of The King and I, this revival had both the plus and minus of following a previous Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, South Pacific . But as the original's producers need not have worried about that can-you top-this factor, so Bartlett Sher and his team have once again given theater goers the thrill of revisiting the golden era of grandly staged musicals with large casts and orchestras, but with a fresh new look, and outlook.

To begin my love letter to this old but bracingly new production, there's that gone forever pleasure of a large orchestra. The 29-piece orchestra is on full display as you take your seat at the Vivian Beaumont. With the last rich sounds of their overture comes a jaw- dropping coup-de-theater — the stage slides over all the musicians except conductor Ted Sperling, and with it comes a ship docks in the port of Siam. It carries the title's "I", Anna Leonowens (Kelli O'Hara) and her 12-year-old Son Louis . The widowed Mrs. Leonowens has been hired to teach English to the children of the King of Siam (Ken Watanabe).

O'Hara, who also starred in Lincoln Center's South Pacific and Light in the Piazza has never been better. Besides her typically ear caressing silky soprano, she plays the feisty school teacher with enormous depth and warmth. While conforming to the Victorian era's prim and proper fashions, her Anna is no timid damsel but an adventurous, free-spirited woman whose answer to her young son Louis's (the very likeable Jake Lucas) question about being afraid about this Siam adventure is "I Whistle a Happy Tune."

As most of us know, either courtesy of one of three Broadway productions or the classic movie version (in which Deborah Kerr's songs were dubbed by Marni Nixon), Anna has plenty to whistle about. Her main cause for resorting to whistling is her boss, the very autocratic King Mongut (Ken Watanabe, the Japanese movie star best known for The Last Samurai). His refusal to make good on his promise to provide her with a house outside the palace is just the beginning of their fraught relationship. The confrontational interaction is ratcheted up by Anna's revulsion at women's repressed situations and the general lack of dignity evident in seeing everyone, even the many wives and children groveling in the King's s presence.

But Rodgers and Hammerstein knew how to inject romance into their stories about the tensions caused by cultural differences. Thus there's a strong whiff of mutual respect and, yes, attraction, that helps Anna to understand the King's insecurity in the face of dominating European power and influence. The opposites attract push-pull that propels these title characters towards a bittersweet ending is stronger than ever, thanks to O'Hara and Watanabe's emotionally powerful and strong on chemistry performances.

When it comes to singing, O'Hara clearly is the lead here. Yet, while the Japanese Watanabe's English may not make every word of his big solo "A Puzzlement" crystal clear, this somehow heightens his character's struggle to make the modern world to see him as a modern man rather than a barbarian. He's at all times a commanding presence, and also often quite funny — and when he finally grabs O'Hara's Anna around the waist for their polka sizzles with enough sexual undercurrent. No wonder O'Hara and Watanabe stop just long enough to give themselves an encore spin around the stage.

Besides a Japanese actor to play the king, the entire King's retinue now features Asian actors, something unheard of when Yul Brynner first did that polka with Gertrude Lawrence. The diversity on display at the Beaumont's stage not only reflects the real world but underscores the relevancy of the themes that made R&H musicals so special and enduring. The world still has lots of girls whose fathers and husbands deny them the chance to be educated, so that King Moangkut's bringing in a teacher does make his blossoming respect and affection for the liberal Anna believable.

With a cast of fifty, it's impossible to say more than that their acting, singing and dancing is an all-around treat. There are, however, a few standouts demanding special shoutouts: Ruthie Ann Miles, last seen as the shoe-obsessed Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Lovely funny, is magnificent as the chief wife Lady Thiang. Her "Something Wonderful" is indeed wonderful, and "Funny Western People" (excised from past productions) is slyly funny.

Ashley Park's Tuptim and Conrad Ricamora's Lun Tha, the romantic duo of the Uncle Tom's Cabin inspired subplot romantic duo have two wonderful duets ("We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed"). And while I've been to musicals in which less than ten players have drowned out the singers, Ted Sperling and his musicians remain a subtle accompanists throughout.

The children are of course a major pleasure, with the youngsters, their mothers and Anna earning their applause with "the memorable "Getting to Know You." As for the choreography I could come back just to see Christopher Gattelli's sublimely staged version of Jerome Robbin's thrilling ballet interpretation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "The Small House of Uncle Tom.

The scenery, costumes and lighting are as magical as the music and performances. Except for that coup-de-theatre opening, the rest of Michael Yeargan's set design is notable for its unfussy elegance, unlike the more realistic opulence of the original. The emphasis is on evoking the location's authenticity, with painterly colors added by Donald Holder's lighting. Catherine Zuber's sumptuous costumes further enrich the many magical stage pictures.

Unsurprisingly, the show has already been extended to January. This is truly a something for everyone theatrical outing audiences, and that goes for anyone from nine to ninety.

A final note: Don't forget to pick up a copy of the Lincoln Center Theater Review. This always informative publication has outdone itself with their lavishly illustrated The King and I edition. The many fascinating features include an interview with Sandy Kennedy, who played Gertrude Lawrence's son in the original, a feature on King Mongkut's Siam with photographs actually taking by his concubines.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/Orchestra
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune/ Anna Leonowens and Louis Leonowens
  • My Lord and Master / Tuptim
  • Hello,/Young_Lovers/ Anna
  • The March of the Siamese Children/ Orchestra
  • A Puzzlement/ King
  • Getting to Know You/Anna, Wives, and Children
  • We Kiss in a Shadow/ Tuptim and Lun Tha
  • A Puzzlement (Reprise) Prince Chulalongkorn and Louis Leonowens
  • Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?/ Anna
  • Something Wonderful/ Lady Thiang
Act Two
  • Western People Funny/ Lady Thiang and Wives
  • I Have/Dreamed/ Tuptim and Lun Tha
  • Hello, Young Lovers (Reprise) Anna Leonowens
  • The Small House of Uncle Thomas /Tuptim, Royal Singers and Dancers
  • Song of The King Anna Leonowens and The King of Siam
  • Shall We Dance? / Anna and King
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune (Reprise) Anna Leonowens

Search CurtainUp in the box below Back to Curtainup Main Page

The King and I
Inspired by Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Original Jerome Robbins Choreography by Christopher Gattelli, based on original choreography by Jerome Robbins

Cast: Kelli O'Hara (Anna Leonowens), Ken Watanabe (King of Siam), Ruthie Ann Miles (Lady Thiang), Ashley Park (Tuptim), Conrad Ricamora (Lun Tha), Edward Baker-Duly (Sir Edward Ramsey), Jon Viktor Corpuz (Prince Chulalongkorn), Murphy Guyer (Captain Orton), Jake Lucas (Louis Leonowens), Paul Nakauchi (Kralahome) and Marc Oka (Phra Alack)
Aaron J.Albana, Adriana Braganza, Amaya Braganza,Billy Butstamante, LaMae Caparas,Hsin-Ping Chang, Andrew Cheng, Lynn Masako Cheng, Olivia Chun, Ali Ewoldt, Ethan Halford Holder, Cole Horibe Angel, MaryAnn Hu, James Ignacio, Misa Iwama, Christie Kim, Kelvin Moon Loh, Sumie Maeda Topsy,Paul HeeSang Miller, Rommel Pierre O'Choa, Kristen Faith Oei, Autumn Ogawa, Diane Phelan, William Poon, Brian Rivera, Ann Sanders, Ian Saraceni, Atushisa Shinomya, Michiko Takemasa, Kei Tsuruharatani, Rocco Wu, XiaoChuan Xie, Timothy Yang

Scenic design: Michael Yeargan
Costume design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting design: Donald Holder
Sound design: Scott Lehrer
Musical direction: Ted Sperling
Stage Manager: Jennifer Rae Moore
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center
From 3/12/15; opening 4/16/1t; closing-- after multiple Tony nominations the show went to open-ended.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/19/15 press matinee
Re-reviewed 6/23/16, just 3 days before closing 6/26/16 (but with a touring production planned)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The King and I
  • I disagree with the review of The King and I
  • The review made me eager to see The King and I
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.

©Copyright 2016, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from