Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is an American Standard, that in its inception was a controversial and much talked about affair. A musical about an outspoken women who challenges a man and his thoughts and opinions while living alone in a foreign country. Not just any country but in Siam in the heart of Asia. But it is thanks to musicals like this that we are able to some of the current controversial and talked about pieces of theatre. Shows like Rent, Next to Normal, and Spring Awakening all owe a debt of gratitude to shows like The King and I, because the envelope in order to be pushed as far as it has in some of the aforementioned shows has to have a starting place. Zach Theatre has been known for some time as a place for intellectual, professional and thought provoking theatre and their current production of The King and I is no exception. They take that pioneering spirit of this show and elevate it to new heights with this elaborate and details presentation. Every aspect of this show is thoroughly examined and thought through, giving audiences a gift.
The most obvious areas to comment on the extent of the care and intelligence put into this show is in the production values, the scenic design is executed in a way that rivals Broadway, The West End and Las Vegas. From the moment the curtain rises you are so fully aware that you are in an elaborate palace fit for an Asian tyrant like the King of Siam. Scott Yoo the productions scenic designer took every opportunity to bring an authenticity to the Thai and Siamese culture that this show revolves around every element of the costuming designed by Alison Heryer is a celebration of the beauty and majesty of these people and their rich and multifaceted culture.
Then there is the matter of the actors, or should I say the sole purpose for going to see this show! Jill Blackwood as Mrs. Anna gives a performance to the worth of a Tony Nomination. She brings a humanity, and a humility the iconic role. Turning the heroine and revolutionist into a character that changes, and learns from her adventure in the Court of Siam. There are moments when you just want to reach out and hug her, and others when you can’t help but cheer her on. Jason Yau and Yoonjeong Seong give an equally heart wrenching performance as the star crossed lovers of Lun Tha and Tuptim. When Seong’s Tuptim hears the news of her lover’s demise you feel the audience weep with her in a gasp of unified sadness. Yau as Lun Tha brings new levels of beauty to the harmonies that have been touching people for decades.
Of course the real question for any critic when knowing you are walking into a show that has such an Iconic persona as the King Of Siam who was played for over 30 years by the same man both on Broadway and the silver screen you have to wonder, will this be able to compare to the powerhouse that was Yul Brynner? In Zach’s production the role was gifted to Mel Sagrado Maghuyop who at first glance seems to be too timid and small to compare to this legend. However as the show builds and the story escalates to its climax you come to love Maghuyop in a way that makes you say “Brynner who?” Maghuyop’s personification is a new fresh look at the tyrant of Siam, his delivery of the jokes that are written into the script keep the audience in stitches. Making you depressed for the show to come to an end, as you want The King of Siam to live on forever as he will in our memories long after the curtain has closed at Zach!
This show from start to finish is a powerhouse of talent, skill, and perfect choices. I give this show an unprecedented 6 out of 5 stars. Don’t miss this show while it is here, mark my words in a year this show will be garnering Tony Nomination after Tony Nomination!