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A CurtainUp London London Review
The King and I

You think, like ev'ry woman
I have to be a slave or concubine -
You conceited, self-indulgent libertine! . . . libertine
How I wish I called him that! Right to his face! Libertine!
And while we're on the subject, Sire,
There are certain goings on around this place
That I wish to tell you I do not admire:
I do not like polygamy
Or even moderate bigamy
(I realize
That in your eyes
That clearly makes a prig o' me)
— Anna - Verse from song "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?"
The King and I
Maria Friedman as Anna and Daniel Dae Kim as the King
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
It is interesting that the London review of The King and I at the London Palladium in 2000 is the last time that Curtain Up reviewed this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Now the musical about the nineteenth century king of Siam and the English governess hired for his children comes to London's largest venue, the massive 5,200 seater Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. That is the largest, unless we are talking Wembley Stadium or the 23,000 seat venue, the O2 at North Greenwich formerly known as the Millennium Dome. By comparison with traditional theatre venues, the London Palladium seats 2,286 or Theatre Royal Drury Lane 2,237, the Royal Albert Hall is more than twice the size. Until recently the Royal Albert Hall was most associated with orchestral classical music concerts including the famous Summer Promenade series of nightly selections from the classical repertoire, affectionately called "The Proms" where as well as paying for the more expensive seats, promenaders can pay a lot less to stand in the centre for the duration of the concert. However a few operas have been staged there in recent years in the round and to popular acclaim.

Daniel Dae Kim who played the Korean Jin in the hit television series Lost stars as the King, the part famously created and created and recreated several times by the late Yul Brynner. Maria Friedman with the wonderful voice plays Anna Leonowens the English widow who finds herself in a strange country with strange customs. The King's principal wife and mother of the heir Lady Thiang is played by Korean American opera singer Jee Hyun Lim.

Although The King and I does not seem to have been revived recently on Broadway, it has five very well known tunes. The chirpy "I Whistle a Happy Tune" to calm the nerves of Anna's son Louis (Mischa Goodman) as they embark on an adventure in a foreign country; the stirringly romantic ballad "Hello Young Lovers" as we meet Princess Tuptim (Yanle Zhong) sent from Burma, the nth wife for the King; the sing-a-long "Getting to Know You" as Anna meets and is accepted by the extensive Royal family; and the exhilarating show stopping tune, "Shall We Dance" for the waltzing display arranged for the British Attaché, Sir Edward Ramsay (Michael Simkins). Maybe the most emotive moment in the show is when the individual Siamese royal children make their entrance to the delightful orchestral, "The March of the Siamese Children." I could happily have watched these charming children all evening as they strut or pose or run— sometimes serious, sometimes shy, sometimes self conscious, sometimes assured, making each entrance idiosyncratic and beautifully timed.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are on hand to give us a near 40 piece orchestral support and cannot be faulted musically. The Siamese costumes are beautiful silks and brocades with gold embroidery in a palette of colours from hot pinks through the reds to purples, the hairstyles topknots with gold clasps for both girls and boys. The King too, although he never shows his bare chest, has draped red silk trousers and brilliantly decorated jackets and like all the Siamese court, bare feet with bangles on his ankles. Anna wears enormous hooped crinolines but they are not the kind of dresses we would die for as the exaggeration seems overstated, especially her gold ball gown which looks like extreme kitsch. We are reminded of how Gertrude Lawrence who, then undiagnosed, but suffering from cancer had to drag the heavy frocks around in the original Broadway production. The set has harbour edges with real water and miniature floating junks but the fireworks are not worth the price we pay in smoke and sulphurous fumes in this indoor venue. Although we had very good seats I felt a little too far away from the action.

The musical doesn't tick any diversity boxes in the twenty first century with its dependence on the British Empire world view but Daniel Dae Kim acts well as the King trying to be accepted by Western nations and yet bound by old customs and traditions. He may not have been cast here for his singing voice but I suppose that also applied to the tremendously popular Yul Brynner. However Kim can dance and his waltzing is athletic and impressive. The ballet, the Thai traditional dressed dance version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Small House of Uncle Thomas is a highlight of the second act with its quirky interpretation of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Although she has a lovely voice, Maria Friedman is slightly upstaged by the operatic voices in the minor roles but it must be very difficult to act when wearing an enormous crinoline. Sad to say The King and I is a little Lost in the Royal Albert Hall!

The King and I
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Choreographer: Susan Kikuchi
Music director: Gareth Valentine

Starring: Daniel De Kim, Maria Friedman, David Yip, Jee Hyun Lim, Ethan Le Phong, Yanle Zhong, Michael Simkins, Steven Scott
With: Mischa Goldman/Lewis Cornay, James Allan, Hugo Yamaguchi/Tony Nguyen/ Yusuke Legard, Miwa Saeki, Aiko Kato, Karen Cadogan, Victoria Sahakian Rogers, Adam Wong, Azumi Ono, Cezarah Bonner, Heidi Carmichael, Chi-Ming Chan, Gemma Choi, Kelly Chow, Jonathan Chu, Ben Enathally, Masashi Fujimoto, Keiko Hewitt-Teale, Melinda Hughes, Susan Humphris, Yuko Imazaike, Marides Lazo, William Mychael Lee, Renee Montemayor, Saori Oda, Oliver Pang, Angelo Paragoso, Anton Perez, Philip Phung, Yo Santhaveesuk, Samantha Tan, Mami Tomotami, Gavin Tsang, Elena Wang, Myong Hee Yamamoto, Tom Yang, Angelli Atienza, Emily Lue-Fong, Charlotte Chui, Madison Aguilar, Alex Amadasun, Andre Briones, Yasmin Choi, Debbie Mai Gordon, Scarlett Mae Hogan, Jessie Siron-Fernandez, Iain Shen Teo, Linnea Wilson, Ted Wilson, Priscilla Yu, Sarah Azamtu, Sofea Azamtu, Maiya Beazley, Millie Beazley, Candice Chen, Julien Lee Heberling, Nicolas Lue-Fong, Aki Lunn, Viktoria Memphin, Alice Yau, Jason Yau, Zara Ramtohul Akbur, Anna Mai Barnes, Jordan Chong, Georgia Chu Glen, Thomas Cousins, Rio Dow, Aidan Lim, Aviguill Freo Lucero, Jahna Lucero, Kyle Portnoy, Victoria Vincent
Set and Costume Design: Robert Jones
Lighting Design: Andrew Bridge
Sound Design: Bobby Aitken
The Royal Philhamonic Orchestra
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes including one interval
Booking to 28th June 2009
Box Office: 0845 401 5045.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 16th June 2009 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP (Tube: High Street Kensington or South Kensington and a 10 minute walk)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/Orchestra
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune/ Anna and Louis
  • 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
  • Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?/ Anna
  • Something Wonderful/ Lady Thiang
Act Two
  • I Have/Dreamed/ Tuptim and Lun Tha
  • The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Ballet) / Tuptim and Wives
  • Shall We Dance? / Anna and King
  • Prayer to Buddha / King and Royal Household
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