REVIEW: The King and I at Leeds Grand Theatre

[Ad – gifted] Yesterday evening, myself and a plus 1 (my lovely mum, of course) attended the press showing of The King and I at Leeds Grand Theatre, reprising its sold-out record-breaking season at the London Palladium.

Based on the novel, the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s production directed by Bartlett Sher, tells the tale of the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a ‘difficult’ woman drafted in from Singapore to teach the King’s many wives and children scientific wisdom and the ways of Western society, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

Anna teaching in the king and i
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Setting The Scene

The opening curtain lifted to the sound of a full-scale orchestra to reveal Annalene Beechey starring as her namesake, Anna, alongside her son. Both cast members are looking out from the deck of a ship sailing towards the docks of Bangkok, where the production is set.

First impressions of the set, designed by Michael Yeargan, were incredible, with Anna’s life-like ship gliding across the stage surrounded by a cloud low lying smoke. Similar flawless executions continued throughout the rest of the show, effectively transforming the stage for each scene in fluid, well thought out moments.

Opposites Attract

Jose Llana portrays The King of Siam’s internal struggle as he tries to rule as a modernist without becoming colonised or forsaking his traditional values. His character is extremely self-aware, admitting in the ‘A Puzzlement’ song that “there are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know,” but also remaining stubborn and unwilling to ask for help. Giving credit where it’s due, Llana is also a master when it comes to facial expressions; conveying meaning and wit without even saying anything at various points throughout the production.

The strong personalities of both The King and Anna clash on stage, but their fundamental incompatibility eventually helps them form a mutual understanding and appreciation of one another. The actors’ chemistry is obvious and it’s clear to see that the two stars have bonded since the musical embarked on its international tour earlier this year.

Work Of Art

Uncle Tom's Cabin play within The King and I
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Drawing similarities to the 1956 Oscar-winning film version, the highlight is the ‘play within a play’ that occurs in the second half of the production. The impressive play is a ballet interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, narrated by Tuptim (Paulina Yeung), a girl gifted to the king of Siam from Burma who can half relate to the captivating tale of two desperate lovers escaping from the grasp of an evil King.

Just when it seemed like the show had peaked, the audience was transported to the King’s study for the moment they had all been waiting for – the King of Siam and Anna’s famous dance. The pair’s rendition of ‘Shall We Dance?’ was timeless, with Anna’s amazing full-skirted costume, designed by Catherine Zuber, also taking the spotlight.

Full of deep and meaningful sub-plots, but remaining funny and romantic, the entire production of the King and I was wonderful and a great take on the classic novel and film.

RATING: 10/10

The King and I musical is showing at Leeds Grand Theatre from Tuesday 29 October to Saturday 9 November 2019.

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