The King and I

Music by Richard RodgersThe King and I by Porchlight Music Theatre

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

based on the book Anna and the King of Siam

by Margaret Landon

Directed by L. Walter Stearns

Music Direction by Eugene Dizon

Choreographer Brenda Didier

Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre

At Stage 773, Chicago

Warm and fuzzy remount of The King and I contains new two piano  orchestrations

L. Walter Stearns’ farewell production for  Porchlight Music Theatre as artistic director is a wonderful and innovative production of the Tony winning 1951 musical – The King and I. Anchored by Brianna Borger (Anna Leonowens) and Wayne Hu (The King), Stearns’ sweet and flowing production looks  splendid with a colorful array of Oriental costumes including those 1960’s European hooped dress (costume design by Bill Morey). Add an evocative Far East set (by Ian Zywica) with mood enhancing lighting (by Mac Vaughey) and you have a terrific looking production.

The King and I by Porchlight Music Theatre

The use of two pianos utilized the orchestrations created by the original producers but locked away for 50 years was made available to Porchlight Music Theatre by R & H Productions ( owners of the Rodgers & Hammerstein rights) after they found the orchestrations a few years ago. So, this production contains  “world premiere” orchestrations that Eugene Dizon and Allison Hendrix played marvelously. This innovation served the production well enabling the cast to not have to be wearing microphones. None were needed here as the cast of fine singers nimbly sang their songs with clear and understandable volume and diction.

The King and I by Porchlight Music Theatre

Considered to be Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved musical, The King and I is set in Siam in the 1860’s. It tells the story of Anna, 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 and a rich baritone by Wayne Hu, 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 (Erik Kaiko) and Tuptim (Jillian Anne Jocson).  The theme of tolerance and social change is deftly presented.

The King and I by Porchlight Music Theatre

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” and “We Kiss In a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” The cast mostly of Asian-Americans featured strong vocals especially from Erik Kaiko, Jillian Anne Jackson and Kate Garassino.

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

The King and I by Porchlight Music Theatre

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 intimate, colorful, exquisitely sung production is a treat. You’d be hard pressed to see a finer production of this beloved classic despite the limited budget that Porchlight Music Theatre has. Wayne Hu’s King was commanding and Brianna Borger’s charismatic Anna was refreshing. I was most impressed with production.  You’ll be entertained and you’ll live humming the fabulous R & H tunes. “Getting to Know You” is still stuck in my head – it makes me smile.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 29, 2011

For full show information, go to the page for The King and I at TheatreinChicago.

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.porchlighttheatre.com, tickets $38, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through June 5, 2011

Here is a sample from the Porchlught production: