The 2015 Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, ‘The King and I’, has received much praise and a number of Tony Awards, including the one for Best Revival of a Musical.
In response to overwhelming public demand, the production, directed by Bartlett Sher, came to the West End this year and is currently running at the London Palladium till September, 29.
In the able hands of Sher, this classic tale of an Englishwoman’s time at the court of Siam, so often accused of propagating Orientalism, turns into an emotional insight into the sacrifices required to embrace modernity.
With Japanese actor Ken Watanabe and Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara reprising their roles from the New York production, we’re certain that it’s going to be one unforgettable show.
But if you need any more convincing, here’s what a bunch of international publications have to say about the production:
1. Hollywood Reporter
[…]Director Bartlett Sher banishes even the faintest trace of mid-century quaintness or patronizing exoticism from the material, treating the 1951 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic with unimpeachable dramatic integrity and emotional authenticity that are equaled by this landmark production’s exquisite musicianship and vocals. As for the superlative leads, Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe, to say they are outstanding seems almost unfair given the uniform excellence of the massive ensemble.
But what’s so uplifting is that Sher approaches their work not as a nostalgia exercise.
2. New York Post
Kelli O’Hara gives yet another finely calibrated performance as the “I” of the title. Her warm, occasionally bemused poise makes her a fine fit for Anna Leonowens…The music is simply divine. The cast appears to be just as transported as we are, their voices ringing with heartfelt emotion.
And yet we’re one element short of perfection — and that’s the king. […] But so strong is the rest of this show that, even with a relatively weak performance by the king, you’re still getting the royal treatment.
3. The New York Times
Mr. Sher is no strong-armed revisionist. He works from within vintage material, coaxing shadowy emotional depths to churn up a surface that might otherwise seem shiny and slick.
He understands very well what makes the show work, and he delivers it clean-scrubbed and naked, allowing us to see “The King and I” plain.
4. Time Out New York
Although Hammerstein’s characterization of the King has pain and pathos in addition to comic bluster, he speaks a pidgin English that few actors can pull off today. Luckily, the Japanese Watanabe shows a man struggling with a foreign tongue.
…O’Hara sounds angelic as ever…her silky, shimmering soprano a treasure — and the role plays to her strengths: wryness, warmth and quiet dignity. Sher directs her and the rest of an exceptionally good cast…with palpable respect for the material and a care to avoid orientalist humbug.
The production has the epic sweep that the authors intended, along with all those songs. Mr. Sher and his leading players also investigate undercurrents of romance and physical attraction which were not evident in the original production…Sher enhances these undercurrents and has his actors act on them…That this works so well – and adds an additional color to the tapestry of the show – is due in part to the acting.
6. The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Watanabe gets out from Brynner’s long shadow by giving a performance that is gleefully playful, regally commanding and wholly his own…Kelli O’Hara leaves nothing whatsoever to be desired as Anna.
[…] Every part, right down to the smallest of the children, is endowed with strong and clear individuality…Ted Sperling’s 28-piece pit band plays Robert Russell Bennett’s original 1951 orchestrations, which glitter and shine. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a Broadway score played in the theater with such finesse.
The degree to which you want the characters to acknowledge and act on their attraction is a bit of a shock, considering the personal and cultural implications…It takes extraordinary acting and singing to build and sustain such moments.
No surprise that O’Hara handles the singing easily; she has perhaps the most naturally beautiful voice on Broadway.
She has a terrific sparring partner in Watanabe […]his conception of the king as a complicated blend of spoiled teenager and spiritual striver made a more convincing case for him than I’ve previously experienced.
Broadway’s darling, Kelli O’Hara, is ravishing as the English governess to the children in the royal household of the King of Siam, played by the powerfully seductive Japanese movie star Ken Watanabe.
9. The Wrap
If anything in this revival shakes up our preconceptions of ‘The King and I,’ it’s that Anna must undergo almost as much re-education as the king (Ken Watanabe).
O’Hara’s Anna is nearly as headstrong as he…Watanabe doesn’t dominate the show like Brynner. He’s regal, but he’s also far more vulnerable, and as performed here, he wills his own death, almost as if a suicide.
10. Entertainment Weekly
Without hammering away at the point too impulsively, Sher’s intents seem to sway the story back to a uniquely feminist state of mind…Watanabe is a charismatic and relatively subdued King, but often very hard to decipher.
O’Hara could bring out the romantic swoon in just about any male costar, and Anna is another triumph in her winsome recent gallery of fine portrayals.
11. New York Theatre Guide
The show starts in style with a real wow-factor – a boat appears on stage carrying schoolteacher Ann and her son Lucas.
[…] the rest of the show’s set is more of a basic affair, though it still manages to look stunning, majestic and lavish. The lighting is also very effective and all these elements, together with the beautifully designed costumes really do make you feel that you are right there at the Palace in Siam all those years ago.
The cast and musicians manage to sweep you away to a bygone era, where men were supreme and women had to be subservient. […] the delightful Kelli O’Hara may appear enchanting and sweet, but as schoolteacher Anna Leonowens she certainly knows how to speak her mind. She is perfect for the role.
Featuring a cast of more than 50 performers, choreography based on the original, and a score of all-time favourites including “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance?” in their glorious, original orchestrations, the London Palladium invites you to its ongoing staging of ‘The King and I’.
Book your tickets to the show here.