The King and I - A golden Broadway musical

☆★★★★ The King and I
As the London Palladium is one of the most prominent theatres in London’s West End, it’s only appropriate that it should be the home of a big musical. And The King and I, without doubt, fits the bill. Originally produced at New York’s Lincoln Centre in 2015, this production directed by Bartlett Sher reunites the original creative team of Catherine Zuber, Michael Yeargan, Donald Holder, Scott Lehrer and Christopher Gattelli, together with Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe.

Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe
Set in Bangkok during the 1860s, the story focuses on the unconventional and tempestuous relationship between Anna, a British schoolteacher and her esteemed employer, the 'modernist' King of Siam, who has employed her to teach his many wives and children.

This is by no means a small production and amply fills this beautiful theatre with a company of over 50 performers drawn from around the world. The sets are lavish, golden and fulsome; a magnificent eighteen-piece orchestra interprets superbly Rogers and Hammerstein’s distinctive, well-known score which includes such timeless classics as Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers and Shall We Dance.

So, with a pedigree like this, what’s not to like? From my point of view, my main criticism is the show was overlong. At more than three hours including an interval, some judicious cuts would have added to the pace, especially in the second act, where the ’ballet’ sequence – The Small House of Uncle Thomas - seemed to go on for a 20-minute eternity. This is probably heresy to say, especially as it is based on Jerome Robbins’ original concept.

Kelli O’Hara is in all senses a quintessential Broadway star. She sings magnificently, dances with ease in her enormous crinolines and is the embodiment of the English rose – at last Julie Andrews has a worthy and extremely talented successor! I will probably face heaps of opprobrium, but I found Ken Watanabe extremely difficult to hear and understand. His accent was strong, and much of the dialogue and lyrics sadly seemed to get lost. That apart, he was a kind tyrannical king with significant presence and a decidedly wicked glint in his eye!

The King and I is, without question, a wonderfully glorious, lavish production – an old-fashioned Broadway musical with old-style glamour at its heart. The ensemble is enchanting, especially the troupe of children that make up the King’s extended family from his many wives. This is a show that should be seen and admired but with the caveat that, even with 250 square metres of gold leaf used in the scenery, all that glistens is not necessarily Broadway gold.