The North Carolina Theatre's truly epic production of The King and I, starring movie star Lou Diamond Phillips, is a grand and glorious affair, with a stellar supporting cast and magnificent music, sets, and costumes. On July 10th, the opening-night audience rewarded Phillips & Co. with an enthusiastic and unusually prolonged standing ovation. They could have clapped all night.
Phillips, who received a well-deserved Tony Award® nomination for his performance as the King of Siam in the 1996 Broadway Revival of The King and I, gives a truly regal performance as the autocratic but reform-minded King, fiercely jealous of his kingly prerogatives but determined to modernize his feudal kingdom, so that Siam (present-day Thailand) can take its place among the modern nations, circa 1862. The trim and boyishly handsome 42-year-old star of La Bamba, Stand and Deliver, and the Young Guns series may stand only five feet, nine inches tall; but he packs considerable charisma and, even standing barefoot for most of his performance, he seems much, much taller.
Patty Goble, who delighted NCT audiences last season with her passionate portrayal of the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, adds to her acting and singing laurels here with an utterly charming, heart-felt performance as widowed English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, a stranger in a very strange land. Hired to teach the royal wives and children and installed in a restricted section of the royal palace, Leonowens repeatedly irks the imperious King by insisting that he honor the clause in her employment agreement that promised that she would reside in her own brick house, separate from but adjacent to the palace.
Goble has most of the best songs: "I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Getting to Know You" (with the personable Tyler Mann as Anna's plucky young son Louis), "Hello, Young Lovers," and "Shall We Dance" (with Lou Diamond Phillips). And she sings superbly.
So do Liz Paw and Telly Leung, who are terrific as star-crossed young lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha, a princess from Burma presented to the King of Siam by his Burmese counterpart and her (secret) Burmese lover. The dangerous trysts of Lun Tha and Tuptim ("We Kiss in a Shadow," "I Have Dreamed"), carried out right under the noses of the dreaded Siamese secret police, provide much of the show's dramatic tension.
Sandia Ang is wonderful as lovely and resourceful Lady Thiang, the devoted head wife who tries to smooth the King's ruffled feathers whenever Anna gets her Irish (actually Welsh) up. Frederick B. Owens makes a magnificent Kralahome (Prime Minister and right-hand man) to the King; young Eric Santiago is impressive as Crown Price Chulalongkorn; and Lamont Wade doubles delightfully, with a Scottish brogue as Captain Orton and elegant English manners as Her Majesty's diplomat Sir Edward Ramsay.
Thanks to Casey Hushion's superlative comic and dramatic staging and Tito Hernandez's dynamic choreography, this venerable Rodgers and Hammerstein classic seems, once again, younger than springtime. The soaring sets, originally designed and built for the Fullerton (California) Civic Light Opera, and the eye-catching costumes provided by the Fullerton Civic Light Opera and Dodger Theatricals and supplemented by NCT costumer Annie Bruskiewitz vividly recreate the exotic ambience of mid-19th century Siam.
Resident musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy and a full orchestra skillfully mine all the musical nuggets from this 24-karat Rodgers and Hammerstein score; and the praiseworthy contributions of technical director Curtis L. Jones, lighting designer John Bartenstein, and sound designer Jonathan Parke also help make the North Carolina Theatre's first production of its 2004 season a must-see musical, perhaps even the biggest and best show in NCT history.
Second Opinion: July 9th News & Observer previews by staff writer Orla Swift: http://www.newsobserver.com/lifestyles/story/1410452p-7533653c.html [inactive 8/04]and http://www.newsobserver.com/lifestyles/story/1410452p-7533699c.html [inacive 8/04]; July 11th preview by Orla Swift: http://www.newsobserver.com/lifestyles/story/1417151p-7540977c.html [inactive 8/04]; and July 13th N&O review by correspondent Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/lifestyles/story/1422661p-7546711c.html [inactie 8/04].
The North Carolina Theatre presents The King and I Tuesday-Friday, July 13-16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 17, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 18, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$60. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Lou Diamond Phillips: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001617/ and http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=56121. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5067. Internet Movie Database (1946 Film Anna and the King of Siam): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038303/. Internet Movie Database (1956 Film The King and I): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049408/. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization: http://www.rnh.com/theatre/index.html. The King and I: Fact or Fiction?: http://www.thaistudents.com/kingandi/ [inactive 7/04]. King Mongkut of Siam: The Prince Who Became a Monk: http://www.royalty.nu/Asia/Thailand/Mongkut.html [inactive 7/04]. Background to The King and I: http://www.dodger.com/king/background.htm.