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December 16, 2016:

The King and I reviewed by Rob Stevens

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Mrs. Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) arrives in Bangkok (all photos by Matthew Murphy)

The King and I was the fifth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II, following their classics Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific and their flop Allegro. It was written for leading lady Gertrude Lawrence but made a star out of Yul Brynner who, after winning the Academy Award for the film version, was indelibly linked to the role. There have been four Broadway revivals including the most recent 2015 version by Lincoln Center Theatre which is now in the process of a National Tour, including a local stop at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through January 21. It is probably the most sumptuous production (massive sets by Michael Yeargan, elaborate costumes by Catherine Zuber and luscious lighting by Donald Holder) of the musical you will ever see. A cast of 39 fills the stage giving a sense of community to the numerous crowd scenes. Director Bartlett Sher has even added back a few songs—the King’s wives’ lament “Western People Funny” and a reprise of “A Puzzlement” for the Young Prince (Anthony Chan) and the schoolteacher’s son Louis (Graham Montgomery)—that this longtime reviewer has never seen. Sher also manages to pace this old fashioned book musical, with constant reprises and short scenes in front of a curtain during scene changes, so it comes in just under three hours including intermission.

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Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao as the doomed lovers

Laura Michelle Kelly provides a solid center for the show as the feisty, loving and beloved English schoolteacher, Mrs. Anna Leonowens. Her crystal clear voice makes the familiar tunes “I Whistle A Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Getting To Know You” a pleasant balm for the ears. Jose Llana exhibits true star power in the role of the autocratic yet modern Western and scientific minded King of Siam. He doesn’t imitate the overly familiar Brynner tricks; he makes the role his own. Joan Almedilla makes a formidable ally or foe as the Head Wife, Lady Thiang. Her rendition of “Something Wonderful” is a highlight. Unfortunately the two young lovers, the Princess Tuptim (Manna Nichols) and the Burmese emissary Lun Tha(Kavin Panmeechao), don’t have much chemistry and they don’t possess the theatrical style voices necessary to really sell their duets “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed.” The 18 pi

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The House of Uncle Thomas ballet

The standout in nearly every production of this musical is the Siamese influenced The Small House of Uncle Thomas Ballet, originally created by Jerome Robbins and here wonderfully recreated by choreographer Christopher Gattelli and danced by Lamae Caparas (Eliza), Nobutaka Mochimaru (Angel), Rommel Pierre O’Choa (Simon of Legree) and the exceptional company. This musical also contains one of the most joyous and exhilarating moments in theatre history, the enthusiastic polka the King and Anna dance to “Shall We Dance?” and here it truly is a show-stopper. The 18 piece orchestra under the baton of conductor Gerald Steichen makes the score sound lush and lovely.

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Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in the iconic “Shall We Dance”

3stars

Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends. Jan 21. hollywoodpantages.com or 800-982-2787.

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