REVIEW: THE KING AND I (London Palladium) ★★★★
Barlett Sher’s Lincoln Centre revival of Rogers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, which opened on Broadway in 2015, has swept its way to the London Palladium for a summer run, starring the Broadway leads.
The King and I is based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944) and originally opened on Broadway in 1951 at the St. James Theatre. It tells the story of Anna, a British school teacher in the 1860’s, who is employed by the King of Siam to teach English to the children of the royal household.
In this production, Anna is sensitively played by one of Broadway’s most in demand actresses, Kelli O’Hara. O’Hara won a Tony Award for this performance in 2015, and its easy to see why. Her warmth radiates off stage and her luxurious voice soars through Rogers & Hammerstein’s glorious score; heartbreaking in ‘Hello Young Lover’s’, hilarious in ‘Shall I Tell You What I Think of You’. Anna adores the children she teaches and you can see the genuine connection O’Hara has with the cast of children in the show, who pretty much steal every scene they are involved in. But O’Hara’s Anna has a bite to her, evident during some taut exchanges with the King, played by Ken Watanabe whose loveable, puzzled King is powerful and charismatic throughout his scenes, but struggles to find his footing in the musical numbers.
Bartlett Sher has helmed a production that fills the staggering Palladium stage with ease. He allows the cast to revel in the libretto’s humour whilst delicately dealing with the issues of female inequality and slavery. He makes sure O’Hara’s Anna has a backbone to swing from when necessary and the staging never feels clumsy or overcrowded. He doesn’t overpopulate the stage and with the use of a gorgeous golden curtain he makes scene changes hardly noticeable.
Christopher Gattelli’s choreography pays homage beautifully to Jerome Robbins’ original work, whilst creating some set pieces that feel as contemporary as they do classic. His staging of the Act II ballet ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ was a highlight of the night and was gorgeously led by End Yamaguchi. Gattelli also works wonders in one of the show’s most infamous sequences, ‘Shall We Dance’, weaving O’Hara and Watanabe skilfully amongst Michael Yeargan’s sweeping pillars that manoeuvre around stage. Yeargan’s set works wonders throughout the piece, especially during the opening moments of the show, and Donald Holder’s lighting design compliments both the set and Catherine Zuber’s gorgeous costumes splendidly. O’Hara’s Act II ball gown is a breathtaking in real life as it looks in photos.
A production laced with humour, heart and an unmissable performance by O’Hara, tackles an occasionally tricky script with ease and grace, bringing to life one of the theatre’s most popular shows with class and joy. Etc etc etc.
Reviewed by Oliver Williams
Photo: Matthew Murphy