Review: The King and I at Liverpool Empire

Review by Louise Reynolds.

Following its run in the West End, Tony Award-winning Bartlett Shea’s production of this classic musical ‘The King and I’, is now touring and last night opened in all its splendour at the Liverpool Empire to a full audience.

For many of us the 1956 film staring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr is what we remember, with its stunning costumes, sets, and of course, musical score. This golden age film was based on Roger and Hammerstein’s 1951 Broadway musical hit, which was adapted from a book written by Margaret Landon called ‘Anna and the King of Siam’.  

From beginning to the end, this show was outstanding. My guest and I would often glance at each other as we were wowed over and over again.

Subtly updated by The Lincoln Center Theater, its cultural diverse cast was very refreshing and I have to say brilliant in every way, from the youngest of which there were quite a few, very cute children to the oldest of the cast, their performances did not disappoint.

This excellent cast was headed up by Darren Lee playing the King of Siam who is a mean, charismatic dictator, but at times humorous and even vulnerable under his hard exterior.  

Annalene Beechey as Anna Leonowens, plays a Welsh schoolteacher who has set sail from England with her young son Louis (played by Joseph Black) for Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand) to tutor the Kings wives and many children for a mere £20 a month ( how much that would of be in today money, I don’t know!) and also the promise of a house!

The King is wanting to move Siam into the more modern world, by forming alliances with the West and not being seen as ‘barbaric’ country.

Anna struggles with trying to understand and fit in to the different Culture and the old traditions of Siam. She shows her disagreement with many of the strict rules the King imposes on his people especially his harem of wives and women in general. This although an uncomfortable subject and one that shows the times that they were living in, was handled with humour and made me feel somewhat glad, that we are no longer living in such an oppressive society towards women.

The strong chemistry between the two main roles is truly undeniable and is superbly played out in the many scenes they share, especially the beautifully woven dance scene, ‘Shall we Dance’ in Act 2.

Annalene Beechey shone in the role as Anna, with her gorgeous array of gowns by Costume designer Catherine Zuber and her exquisite vocals, she seemed made for the part, bringing back to life those classic songs like ‘Getting to know You’ and ‘Shall we dance’.

Lady Thiang, the Kings devoted head wife played superbly Cezarah Bonner, also lit up the stage with her vocals in ‘Something Wonderful’.

But one of the highlights for me of this musical production was the ‘Play within a Play’ in Act 2. The Siamese Ballet interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was spectacular in every way from the opulent costume designs, to the choreography of the dancers, just outstanding!  This all being backed up by a full scale orchestra led by Musical Director Stephen Ridley.

With Micheal Yeargans excellent set design, beginning with Anna’s ship that glides onto stage with billowing smoke, to the huge moving columns, gold curtain and also the many hanging flowers suspended from the ceiling, gave the impression of oriental opulence and beauty. With the support of breathtaking array of coloured lighting, we were mesmerised to the stage at all times.

If you can get tickets for this outstanding musical then do as its is in every way a joy to watch…….etc etc etc.

Performance Information
The King and I
Liverpool Empire Theatre
Up to and including Saturday 21st March

Visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool for information

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