MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The King and I at The Lyric Opera of Chicago

The King and I at The Lyric Opera of Chicago

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam

by Margaret Landon

Directed by Lee Blakeley

Conductor David Chase

Choreographer Peggy Hickey

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Dazzling production with Rodger’s score never sounding better makes the Lyric’s the King and I special

All the creative assets of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, from lavish sets to large ensemble including children, to a large orchestra each contribute to a major spectacle. This wonderful production doesn’t disappoint; it is a family treat!


Considered to be Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved musical, The King and I is set in Siam in the 1860s. It tells the story of Anna (Kate Baldwin), a widowed Englishwomen, who becomes a tutor to the King’s children as part of the “westernization” of Siam by the King. The King, played with simmering angst by Raolo Montalban, is torn between clinging to his ancient customs and embracing modern ways.  Essentially, The King and I is a story of colliding cultures where respect, understanding, and acceptance battle with the stubbornness  of two people – one a king and one a charismatic female. The musical is also a love story subtly between the King and Anna and directly between Lun Tha (Sam Simahk) and Tuptim (Ali Ewolsi).  The theme of tolerance and social change is deftly presented.

This production of the Tony winning 1951 musical – The King and I. Anchored by Kate Baldwin (Anna Leonowens) and Paolo Montalban (The King), director Lee Blakley’s vivid flowing production looks  splendid with a colorful array of Oriental costumes including those 1860s European hooped dress (costume design by Sue Blane). Add an evocative Far East set (by Jean-Mark Puissant) with mood enhancing lighting (by Rick Fisher) and you have a gorgeous looking production.


This musical contains one of the most loved and respected scores ever written by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Such fun songs like “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting To Know You” are implanted into minds of generations along with the beautifully enchanting ballads such as “Hello, Young Lovers,”  “We Kiss In a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed.” The cast mostly of Asian-Americans featured strong vocals, especially from Ali Ewoldi and Sam Simahk.

The King’s wives and children evoked charm as they marched, sang, and danced. Peggy Hickey’s Oriental-like movements with the ballet scene “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” using masks and vivid costumes, highlighted act two.

Anna and the King subtly struggled with their cultural difference as both suppressed the romantic sparks that lingered. The King’s “A Puzzlement” and Anna’s “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” both contain a subtext of romantic feelings. These feeling almost explode as they dance a polka in the thrilling “Shall We Dance.”

This spectacular, colorful, exquisitely sung production is a treat. You’d be hard pressed to see a finer production of this beloved classic.  The casting was fine but I could see an older and more charismatic King, yet Montalban sure had his moments. I was most impressed with production.  You’ll be entertained and you’ll live humming the fabulous R & H tunes. “Shall We Dance” is still stuck in my head – it makes me want to polka!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: April 30, 2016

For more info checkout The King and I page at

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL, call 312-332-2244,, tickets $29-$169,  Wednesdays thru Sundays, matinees 12;30 or 1:30, evenings at 7 pm, see site for more details. through May 22, 2016