Reviewed by Judy Richter
To those of us who have been humming along to "The King and I" ever since it premiered on Broadway in 1951 (that was back in the day when show tunes regularly made it onto radio's "Your Hit Parade"), Broadway By the Bay's production is a chance to savor it once again. But to the dozens of young people in the cast and many, many more in the audience, it's a chance to become acquainted with one of the classics of American musical theater. Thanks to BBB's stellar production, directed by Dennis Lickteig, one can hope that their appetite for such treats has been whetted.
Based on Margaret Landon's "Anna and the King of Siam" and adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II, this show tells the story of a widowed English school teacher, Anna Leonowens (Susan Himes Powers), who sails to Bangkok with her young son, Louis (an appealing Hunter Lowdon), in 1862 to teach the numerous children and wives of the Siamese king. Played by Jared Lee, the king is an autocratic, imperious man who is used to having everyone obey his every command. He's never met the likes of Anna, who's not afraid to stand up to him when necessary, but who's wise enough to know when to back off and let him take credit for her suggestions.
Richard Rodgers' sumptuous score, with lyrics by Hammerstein, is full of hummers. Chief among them are "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," "We Kiss in a Shadow," "I Have Dreamed" and "Shall We Dance." Most of them are beautifully delivered, especially by Powers. Not only is she an accomplished singer with excellent technique and pacing, she's also a fine actress, easily conveying Anna's varied moods. She also has an attractive stage presence, making her a good balance to Lee's commanding king.
The show has a subplot involving the secret love between Tuptim (Meryll Lacquiao), a Burmese princess given to the king as a gift, and Phra Alack (Joshua Lau), her escort. He does well with their duet, "We Kiss in a Shadow," but she has a shrill edge to her higher notes, especially in "My Lord and Master." Jacqueline De Muro, who plays Lady Thiang, the king's No. 1 wife, has the dignified stage presence required by the role, highlighted by her "Something Wonderful." James Zongus plays her son, Prince Chululongkorn, the king's heir.
Jayne Zaban's choreography, inspired by Jerome Robbins' original, is well executed, especially in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," Tuptim's telling of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Except for some unity problems in the overture, the orchestra, led by musical director Mark Hanson, shines on its own and complements the singers. The sumptuous costumes are from The Theatre Company. The sets come from Premier Sets, a division of Cabrillo Music Theatre. Lighting is by BBB's Michael Ramsaur.
BBB prides itself on its educational endeavors and traditionally programs a summer show featuring lots of kids. The kids get great experience on stage, their families come to watch and applaud them, and the whole audience gets a treat. One final note: Opening night started promptly at 8 p.m. One can hope that this approach carries over to future shows.