The King and I ★★★★ Dominion Theatre | Jan 20 - Mar 2, 2024

Based on a novel that repeated many of the fanciful fabrications of the real life Anna Leonowen's memoirs, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical bears little relation to historical fact, but it has a score that is unforgettable. From "Hello, Young Lovers" to "I Have Dreamed," this show presents two masters of the musical theatre genre at the top of their game. In the delightful "Shall We Dance?" Anna invites the King to join her on the dance floor by singing 'On a bright cloud of music shall we fly?' That invitation sums what this show is all about and what the current production delivers. Helen George is suitably feisty as the indomitable Anna, and Darren Lee manages to escape the shadow of Yul Brynner, creating his own version of King Mongkut. However, it is Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang who stopped the show with her rendition of "Something Wonderful." The dance sequence which tells the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and which incorporates the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, is also simply a delight. Kudos to choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The opening set with the arrival of the ship in Bangkok harbour sets an expectation for the staging that is never fulfilled and subsequent settings might be generously described as minimalist. Some of the direction is curious, and when Act I ends with the whole cast standing above the King who is always insisting that no one's head should be above his, it is simply bewildering. The themes of The King and I and its relation to the portrayal of colonialism and non-European cultures has always been problematic, and even in this version, its presentation of gender stereotypes is uncomfortable. The takeaway from Anna's story remains ambiguous and unsatisfying ... but then there's the music! It just doesn't get better than Rodgers and Hammerstein at their best.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Johan Persson

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