REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The King and I 2017 National Tour

Music by Richard Rodgers.

Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, II.

Based on Anna And The King of Siam

By Margaret Landon.

Directed by Bartlett Sher.

Jerome Robins’ choreography recreated by

Christopher Gattell.

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago.

Fresh take on the classic East meets West tale plays up the comedy.

With opulent sets filled with gold and red in an elegant oriental motif, The King and I recreates the splendor of 1860’s Bangkok with break taking visuals, rich in color and texture giving the show the atmosphere befitting Siamese royalty. With splendidly vivid period perfect costumes, The King and I creates an aura that catapults us into the ancient world of Siam just as the British look to dominate it.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first production based on a true story opened on Broadway in March, 1951 with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, racked up 1,246 performances in the initial run and Brynner did 4,625 performances over 34 years as the King plus the 1956 movie with Deborah Kerr. Full of timeless songs like “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance,” The King and I is a Broadway classic that is the ultimate ‘feel good” show considered as the first true ‘theatre spectacle,’ The King and I opened the door for later scenically opulent shows.

 But it’s the score full of happy songs, haunting ballads, tender love songs and the inspiring polka (“Shall We Dance) with triumphant marches rich in Oriental flavor that make Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score most memorable. The timeless love story between a powerful and stubborn king (Jose Llana, a tad too yoing) and a determined Welsh governess (Laura Michelle Kelly, named Anna, is a tale of culture clashes in which each is fascinated by other’s traditions where honor and forgiveness and love abound.

Kelly did yeoman work as Anna—she landed her songs nicely and had the proper combination of humor, warmth and determination to be an effective Anna. Her performance was polished and charming. Jose Llana was terrific as the King with the pronounced swagger of royalty, a domineering persona hiding a kind heart. His number, “A Puzzlement” reveals his inquisitive mind while he slowly learns to admire (even love) Anna. Llana’s chemistry with Kelly never arrives because Llama plays the king with too much comic aplomb. Even in act two culminating with the romantic “Shall We Dance” number that has become a special ‘Broadway moment.’

The large cast featuring many outstanding Asian performers had Manna Nichols’ strong voice land “My Lord and Master” and the duet with Kawn Panmeechao (Lun Tha) “We Kiss In a Shadow” was beautifully romantic. The marvelous, visual stimulating ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” was a recreation of the original Jerome Robins’ choreography (by Christopher Gattell) was astonishing—a mixture of quaint movement with elaborate costumes complete with headdress telling the slave story through narrative and dance (and lighting) to paint a memorable theatrical experience.

The King and I has everything a classic Broadway musical must have: a memorable score—spectacular lighting, sets and costumes—terrific cast with strong leads and excellent supporting players—talented dancers—and—a splendid orchestra.  Rodgers and Hammerstein would enjoy this production—I know I did. At 2 hour and 50 minutes with intermission, it is a full evening of spectacle.


Tom Williams.

At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, tickets $24 – $90, call 312-902-1400,, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission.