Review: The King and I at the London Palladium

The King and I
Review

VERDICT: 
★★★★☆
“as beautiful as expected”

What a stunning show full of cultural appreciation, beautiful costumes, incredible talent and a few important messages. Kelli O’Hara is as beautiful as expected following winning a Tony for the same performance on Broadway and Ken Watanabe portrayed a funny, powerful and driven leader.

Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara in The King and I

I first fell in love with Kelli O’Hara after seeing her perform in The Bridges of Madison County on Broadway back in 2013, so when hearing she’d be playing Anna in Roger and Hammerstein’s classic tale, I couldn’t wait to see her. And boy did she put on a show. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, despite the two major films being made of it, but I can truly say that the stage show is everything a musical should be; it was bright, colourful, magical, filled with wonder, a cultural appreciation, stunning costumes and endless talent.

The show opens with Anna (O’Hara) arriving in Siam and tells the story of how she teaches the king (Watanabe)’s children in the Palace. The two become friends and overcome further political issues involving England and their friendship builds. The relationship between the two was infectious and it was clear that the two actors work so well and bounce amazingly off each other. Anna appears to be the only character who can get any sense of mutual respect from the King, so the fact that the two actors worked so well together made this appear natural and sentimental.

Me with Kelli O’Hara at stage door

Kelli O’Hara, as the only British female character in the show, tries to implement ideas of feminism in Siam in that woman should be treated as equals and intellectuals, which I personally felt empowered by. The grace – yet authority – that O’Hara portrayed in her character’s tone of speaking, posture and general stage presence really enhanced the values that the character of Anna has. Without need for explanation, the amazing quality of O’Hara’s voice is also worth mentioning. “Getting to Know You was probably one of my favourite songs as it was the only song I knew beforehand. However, her rendition also of “Hello Young Lovers” and “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” also blew me away. The control she has over her voice in an operatic style is nothing short of phenomenal. Anna is a loveable character and the way O’Hara interacted with everyone – especially the childen – on stage really made that easy to see. Her fun-loving side was infectious during the duet with the King in “Shall We Dance?” – I could watch her in that beautiful dress dance around the stage all day!

Ken Watanabe – yes, the famous actor, was a joy to watch on stage. My only criticism is that of the fact that because he is an actor, his singing ability couldn’t possibly match O’Hara’s, making their duet fall slightly flat for me. However, what he lacked vocally, he made up for with his acting. Similarly to O’Hara, his connection with the children was infectious, lovely to watch and – because of his character – humorous. The King is again a lovable character, but mainly because of his wit. His comedic timing and general performance had me laughing and smiling throughout. During his solo “A Puzzlement, Watanabe was forced to half sing/half speak the words, but because of Watanabe’s talent and the King’s humorous nature, he spoke it with such comedy, making it strangely appealing!

Ken Watanabe in The King and I

Na-Young Jeon, who plays Tuptim, was beyond phenomenal. Similar to O’Hara, I had seen Jeon in a previous show – she was the first live Fantine I had ever seen in Les Miserables in London – so I was beyond excited to see her perform again and she did not let me down. Her solo near the beginning of the show, “My Lord and Master”, left me with goosebumps and a shiver down my spine as she phenomenally hit the final note. The character of Tuptim is a “present” to the king, yet is doomed in love with another man. Na-Young’s emotion and love on stage was echoed throughout the theatre; I couldn’t take me eyes off her when on stage. Tuptim gains more strength throughout the show, and her transformation from slightly passive to taking control of her life, Na-Young performed amazingly.

Similarly, Dean John-Wilson, who plays Tuptim’s lover, was wonderful to watch. His duets with Na-Young Jeon were beautiful to watch as his voice powerfully – yet smoothly – wooed both the audience and Tuptim.

I love dancing in shows, so my only personal criticism of The King and I was that the dancing was limited. In spite of this, the music by Roger and Hammerstein was beautiful, the costumes periodically appropriate and stunning, and the whole show quite enthralling. The children in the show were lovable, funny and gave the how such character.

Despite being set in the late 1800s, the themes are still prominent today; respect in spite of gender or race, feminism, cultural appreciation and love. Love is a key theme I think in most musicals, and takes many shapes in this one: doomed love, friendship, love, parental love and love for one’s country. Despite the solemn ending, I still walked away from this show happy and would thoroughly recommend the show!

The cast of The King and I

6 comments

  1. I adored this production on Broadway, though I’m sad you left out my favorite thing about this production – they show Lady Thiang as the strong, clever first lady she is, not the subservient mouse you see in the movie. Ruthie Ann Miles was incredible in the role. I know she shares the role in London, so I’m not sure if you saw her.

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