Left – Jason Scott Lee. Cover – Lisa McCune and Jason Scott Lee. Photos – Oliver Toth
Based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Langdon was an immediate best-seller. It was soon made into a dramatic film and then chosen by the creative team of Rogers and Hammerstein to become a Broadway musical – The King and I. A young actor named Yul Brynner became a star and a Broadway classic was written into the history books.
The hit stage show became a hit film musical and Yul Brynner's performance as the King became a career-defining role, one that he continued to perform until his death in 1985.
In the early 90s John Frost and the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust produced a stunning version that not only toured Australia, but eventually found its way to the West End and Broadway, winning four coveted Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.
That production and a number of the key creatives have come together to bring The King and I to a new generation of audiences.
Even today this production is stunning, with bright red and gold dominating the beautiful design. Apparently, over 61,000 Swarovski crystals are embedded in the set.
Brian Thomson's set design and Roger Kirk's costumes are works of art. To see Anna swirling around the stage during Shall We Dance or the Thai dancers in their beautifully detailed costumes is almost worth the price of admission.
Christopher Renshaw is back in the director's seat, ensuring that the staging is crisp and the action hardly ever lags.
The casting works well with a number of the principals returning to this production, sometimes in new roles. Marty Rhone, a veteran of Australian showbiz, played Lun Tha in a London production opposite Yul Brynner. Here he delivers a strong performance as The Kralahome.
Chinese born Shu-Cheen Yu who played Tuptim in Frost's original production is now Lady Thiang. Her rendition of Something Wonderful is a highlight in the show.
Both Adrian Li Donni and Jenny Liu are engaging as the young lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim.
For the Melbourne season Jason Scott Lee has the unenviable task of trying to make the role of the King his own. Again, he is not new to the role, having played it in Frost's London production. Best known for his film roles, he manages to bring a new interpretation with a confident presence and a touch of vulnerability.
As Anna, the darling of current Australian musical theatre, Lisa McCune, is a force that drives this show. Her Anna is not only strong, but as stubborn and willful as any King. Looking ravishing in every costume, she sings and acts the role with a very modern assuredness.
This is a very enjoyable production all round, although one needs to skip over the western interpretations of Thai history and culture. When you add the musical accomplishments of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II and many of their timeless songs (Hello Young Lovers, We Kiss in a Shadow, and more) it reminds us how wonderful these shows still are.
John Frost and Opera Australia present
THE KING AND I
by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Director Christopher Renshaw
Venue: Princess Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: from 10 June, 2014
Times: Wed–Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm & Sun 3pm
Tickets: from $79.90
Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au | 1300 111 011