The King and I

The King and ILeft – Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Photo – Brian Geach

Prayer chimes, incense and ‘buff’ monks take to the stage, glittering with red elephants and stylised Siamese dancers. Welcome to the 2014 Australian Premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and prepare to be blown away...

A pastiche of people poised on poles heralds Anna Leonowens (Lisa McCune arrives on stage to a hearty round of applause with her reputation preceding her) and her young son Louise Leonowens (Riley Brooker) to their brave new world. Commotion, caution and a cacophony of characters set the scene for where Anna has been and where her personal journey now takes her. Already we share her fear and trepidation: in one short scene we are introduced to her new world with the trials and tribulations she will have to endure to establish herself in a foreign regime. 

Such is the power of fabulous set design and convincing lighting, the audience shares every intimate moment with the performers, sucked into their plight.  LisaWhistles a Happy Tune’ and the orchestra takes us along for the ride. 

The exotic golden entrance of the King (Teddy Tahu Rhodes, WOW) with all the majesty of a bygone era, establishes the King as THE KING, make no mistake about that. People bowing and scraping, many wives and even more children; every person in his life’s entourage knowing exactly what is expected of each and everyone one of them. 

The King rules but this English woman has come to rattle his bejewelled cage. The dynamic between Teddy and Lisa is truly ‘Something Wonderful’ and their great on-stage chemistry shines through every scene. 

Shine? Everything glitters in this production from “over 61,000 Swarovski crystals embedded in this meticulously re-created Tony Award winning set” (Brian Thomson take a bow) to the spot-on lighting (Nigel Levings illuminates), costumes-to-kill-for (Roger Kirk), sound that embraces (Michael Waters) with choreography a religious experience (Susan Kikuchi). 

The ballet segment ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ (worth the freight alone) has East meeting West and I cannot think of a more engrossing way to watch traditional Siamese pointy-finger dancing than through tthis rendition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin! 

With so many stars sparkling, it is hard to focus on any one individual talent. Having said that, accolades for the mesmerising performances from Jenny Liu (Tuptim) and Adrian Li Donni (Lun Tha). Heartfelt and passionate, these two desperate lovers have the audience in their hands as they lift us into musical heaven. Orchestration soars to great heights through the musical direction of Peter Casey, reaching the pinnacle with ‘Something Wonderful’ delivered with poignant praise from the golden throat of Shu-Cheen Yu in her role as Lady Thiang

With music I grew up with (Rodgers and Hammerstein songs ringing in my ears from the age of three) I came to the realisation that I knew most of the lyrics and caught myself thinking out loud to my partner, “Gee, I never knew this song belonged to this show” (like discovering a long-lost friend and piecing memories together). 

Realisation two: this show must have been ground-breaking when first performed on Broadway back in 1951: a strong female role addressing ‘women’s rights’ arguments. Anna confiding with the kingiest of kings, a king who sired his share of the population of Siam! Even history is addressed with insight into customs and diplomacy vis a vis England deciding whether the King of Siam is a barbarian! How contemporary...

This story (based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon) offers a cohesive vehicle to showcase some wonderful tunes: I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers, Getting to Know You, We Kiss in the Shadow, Shall we Dance, I Have Dreamed.... Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! 

Glittering, gliding and sliding through every creative orifice, there is ‘no puzzlement’ why this Australian production has won four Tony Awards. Originally opening in Australia 23 years ago, audiences can yet again feast their senses on this “more lavish in colour and spectacle than any production of The King and I ever...”


Opera Australia and John Frost present
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s
THE KING AND I

Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: From 13 April, 2014
Times: Wed–Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues, Wed & Sat 1.30pm & Sun 3pm
Tickets: From $69.90*
Bookings: qpac.com.au or phone 136 246



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