Highly Recommended ***** In the summer of 1961 I was hired at Herb Rodger’s Music Theater in Highland Park as a summer “intern”. That adventure in my life solidified my desire to be a part of the “theater world” forever.One of the plays we did that season was “The King and I” starring Patrice Munsel and Victor Jory ( they had major names in every production- from Tony Bennett, Genevieve, etc.,etc, etc.). Fast forward to the 1990’s where I played the role of the King in Buffalo Grove, so one can truly see why this particular musical has deep meaning to me.
Now, in the most majestic of productions, the Lyric Opera brings us the 2016 production as their “Broadway” musical of this season. What an amazing visual production it is! Based on the novel, “Anna and The king of Siam” by Margaret Landon, this Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) details the amazing story of a widowed school teacher from England who was hired by the King of Siam to teach his children and his wives Western culture and ways. While that is the basic story it also deals with royalty and slavery during a time in history where here in America slavery was on its way out.
In the role of the powerful King, who wants to be loved by the rest of the world, is Paolo Montalban, who captures the heart and soul of this man among men. Anna is played to perfection by Kate Baldwin, who is both beautiful to look at and to hear. Anna has a young boy,Louis (adorably played by Charlie Babbo) who has made this trek with her. This is an unknown world to them. The King has many children, from many wives. His number one wife, Lady Thiang (awonderful development of character by Rona Figuero) is the mother of the crown Prince Chulalonghorn (solidly played by young local Matthew Uzarraga, who in his young years has been very active in Chicago theater) who is about the same age as Louis. NOTE: we sat right behind Matthew’s proud father and other parents of the Kings children. Watching them watch their children perform was a special treat for us.
The “children” in addition to the sterling messrs Uzarraga and Babbo are as follows: Sophie Mieko Ackerman, Alexis Aponte, Lilly Fujioka, Avonlea Hong, Evangelyn Lee, Liliana Martens, Lucy Martins, Rika Nishikawa, Ana Joy Rowley-Mathews, Benedict Santos Schwegel, A’naam Singh, Zachary Uzarraga (little brother of te Crown Prince), Sophia Woo and Leila Koss as Princess Ying Yaowalak. This is a strong ensemble and cast. Ali Ewoldt is both pretty of face and sound as the young gift to the King, Tuptim and her endition of “Small House of Unclue Thomas” beautifully danced is wonderful. Her star-crossed lover, Lun Tha ,is deftly handled by Sam Simahk and the Kralahome/Prime Minister is well done by Alan Ariano, with just the right touch to show his love and respect for his leader.
The set (Jean-Marc Puissant) is attractive, regal and yet not overpowering. Sue Blane’s costumes are wonderful, Rick Fisher’s lighting and Mark Grey’s sound fill out the tech aspects of the show. Nick Sandys handled the fight choreography and as usual does so to perfection. Peggy Hickey’s choreography is close to the original brilliance of Jerome Robbins, but her changes for the “Small House ” Ballet, featuring Lisa Gillespie as Eliza, David Tai Kim as the Angel/George and Jason Garcia Ignacio as Simon of Lagree was inspired.
“The King and I” is one of my favorite musicals and over the years I have watched it in many venues only to find myself loving it even more every time. For those of you unfamiliar with Siam, it is now Thailand and from what I have learned , there was indeed a Crown Prince Chulangkorn, who in fact did bring major changes to his country. This makes the story even more realistic and heart-warming. Lee Blakeley’s flawless direction and the sterling cast with music under the direction of David Chase made for the shortest of three hour productions I have ever witnessed. The two acts with a 25 minute intermission seemed to go by at rapid speed, and yet, not one note or word was missing from the script and songs such as “I Have Dreamed”, “Hello, Young Lovers”, “We Kiss In A Shadow”, “Shall We Dance” and more are all done to perfection. The “Shall We Dance” number with the King and Anna, as always draws major applause as does the “March of The Siamese Children” where they entered from the audience aisles making it even stronger than usual.
“The King and I ” will continue at The Lyric Opera House thru May 22nd with performances as follows:
|Sun, May 1:||1:30pm|
|Wed, May 4:||12:30pm|
|Thu, May 5:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Fri, May 6:||7:00pm|
|Sat, May 7:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Tue, May 10:||7:00pm|
|Wed, May 11:||1:30pm|
|Thu, May 12:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Fri, May 13:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Sat, May 14:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Sun, May 15:||1:30pm|
|Tue, May 17:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Wed, May 18:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Thu, May 19:||7:00pm|
|Fri, May 20:||7:00pm|
|Sat, May 21:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Sun, May 22:||1:30pm|
|To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The King and I”|
Show Type: Musical
Tickets range from as little as $29.00
Parking is very difficult, but Valet is available
The Civic Opera House is located at 20 N. Wacker Drive