Review by Lauryn Angel
The King and I is a musical loosely based on the true story of Anna Leonowens – an Englishwoman who served as a schoolteacher to the children of the King of Siam in the 1860s. A young widow, Leonowens traveled to Siam accompanied only by her young son, Louis, in a time when most women were expected to travel with a chaperone or female companion. King Mongkut wants his children to learn the ways of the Western world, while keeping their traditional values intact. Mrs. Leonowens, shocked by some of those traditions, attempts to “civilize” the king and his court.
As a child, I came to know Anna Leonowens’ story through the movie version of The King and I, starring Yul Brynner as King Mongkut – a role he played on Broadway as well. Brynner won two Tonys and and Oscar for his portrayal of Mongkut. In short, to my mind, at least, his performance is the one to top. Jose Llana is equal to the task. Llana manages to make King Mongkut sympathetic – in spite of his domineering personality and sexist ways. Llano is supported by Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna Leonowens and Joan Aledilla as the king’s favorite wife, Lady Thiang.
The production is opulent – featuring beautiful costumes and sets featuring moving parts – temple pillars and, at one point, a steam ship. The jewel of the production is the ballet in Act II, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” – a fusion of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with Thai ballet.
The ballet underscores why stories such as The King and I are still important. In a time when people are wary of other cultures, we can benefit from the lessons learned by Anna and the King about opening ourselves to opportunities to learn about other cultures, and to treat those who are different from us with patience and compassion.