THE KING AND I | The London Palladium

Broadway star Kelli O’Hara won the Tony for her portrayal of 19th century governess Anna in this 2015 Broadway production directed by Bartlett Sher, and it’s not hard to see why. O’Hara’s soprano is warm and lilting in the lyrical numbers like “Shall We Dance?”, yet also captures Anna’s feisty side in the wittier songs, like the showstopping “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?”.

Where this production excels is in its stillness and control. Anna’s song to the children of the King of Siam (Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe), “Getting To Know You”, begins so quietly and controlled that we truly appreciate the sincere love radiating from the governess. A line of confused Siamese noblewomen trying out new, uncomfortable hoop skirts and hairdos freeze in a line and practically whisper “Western Women Funny”.

Christopher Gattelli’s choreography (based on Jerome Robbins’ original) comes to a head in the stunning interpretative ballet based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which the court put on as a show to impress the visiting English ambassador (Edward Baker-Duly). All the way through, the choreography perfectly captures the alien, ritualistic dance of 19th century Siam.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 classic doesn’t really contain any showstoppers, and some people may find its culture-clash sentimentality a little old-fashioned in 2018. But its lush, romantic score comes to life with a cast of dozens and an enormous orchestra, with smooth, elegant designs (Michael Yeargan) of burnished stone walls and graceful silk curtains. We spend three hours in a little gilded palace bubble, we laugh, we cry, and we don’t want to leave.

Visit 1860s Siam in London until 29 September 2018.

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