Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic musical The King and I is brought to life at the Center for the Arts. It is a musical so heavily ingrained in popular consciousness, that even having never seen it, I found myself humming along to the immediately recognizable “Getting to Know You” and feeling a fond sense of familiarity whenever the King enthusiastically exclaims, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!”
With its continued popularity, bolstered by gentle humor and subdued passion, it’s no wonder patrons found themselves competing for seats before ultimately resigning themselves to the theater steps to watch this coquettish treat.
From the moment Sydney Hicks’s Anna glides onstage in a skirt so big it affects the tides, she’s charming and spirited, a beautiful foil to Mark Thomas’s titular, headstrong king. Their chemistry is sublimated by the “East versus West” cultural drama but nonetheless shines incandescently when they romp around the stage in “Shall We Dance?” Both infuse their respective roles with humor. Anna’s feisty and physical tirade, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” is simply delicious and reminiscent of every heated monological argument you’ve ever had. The king’s troubled musings in “A Puzzlement” are entertainingly wrought and sympathetically enumerated: how to modernize his traditional kingdom, teach a son to be king, protect his lands from greedy prospectors, and deal with this troublesome Englishwoman?
Between the sparks rendered of flint against stone, life in the palace whirls on. Tuptim (Amanda Mae Steele), the newest of the King’s many wives, is secretly entwined with another, and her rendition of “My Lord and Master” is startlingly heartfelt and beautiful, rendered in a high, operatic soprano. Her lover Lun Tha (Dustin Odom) is a wonderful complement during their clandestine meetings and their duets blend together prettily as heartache and longing on display.
Lady Thiang (Katie Boothe) deserves especial praise for “Something Wonderful,” one of the production’s most vocally challenging songs. She changes pitch and range at the drop of a hat while exerting excellent control and demonstrable empathy.
The choreography during the ballet of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” was well done, and Tuptim’s identification with the story is touching. While there was some kinesthetic awkwardness, it was never enough to overpower the overall appeal of the production.
A moment about the children: they were outright adorable. The king’s brood of youngsters, led proudly by Prince Chulalongkorn (Chamberlin Little) is cuter than a compilation of Internet cat memes. They all performed admirably and brought considerable charm and whimsy to the stage. Corralled on either side by the young prince and a host of royal wives, you can’t help but be delighted by them. Emily Conley, playing Anna’s son, Louis, and Little hold their own very well on stage and portray their characters with clarity and gravitas.
The only problem—and it’s a very little one—is simply how dated the subject material is. It’s never quite self-aware enough for contemporary audiences. Though faithful to the original and impeccably, conscientiously performed, just a little progressive revision and refinement would do wonders to breathe new life into this classic story. This, of course, is not a fault of the production itself; the production is flawless and well worth seeing this upcoming weekend.
Be sure and reserve tickets for The King and I in advance; there is no getting in at the door.
The King and I continues at the Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 25, and Saturday, July 26; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 27, at the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts, 110 W. College St. Click here for tickets.